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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

New Jersey Voters Will Decide On Marijuana Legalization Next Year, Senate Leaders Say

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New Jersey lawmakers are giving up on plans to enact marijuana legalization through the legislature and are now seeking to put the question before voters on the 2020 ballot.

Senate President Steve Sweeney (D) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D) announced on Monday that while they had “made further attempts to generate additional support in the Senate to get this done legislatively,” the “votes just aren’t there.” As a result, they filed a proposal that would allow residents to vote on legalization as a constitutional amendment.

“We are moving forward with a plan to seek voter approval to legalize adult use marijuana in New Jersey,” the leaders said in a press release. “We introduced legislation today to authorize a public referendum for a proposal that will lead to the creation of a system that allows adults to purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes in a responsible way.”

“This initiative will bring cannabis out of the underground so that it can be controlled to ensure a safe product, strictly regulated to limit use to adults and have sales subjected to the sales tax,” they said.

The plan, which NJ.com first reported, is to have the legislature to approve the referendum proposal and get the ballot measure set for a vote in the general election next November. Sweeney and Scutari said they are “confident it will be approved by the Senate, the Assembly and the voters.”

“We will now move forward with a plan that helps correct social and legal injustices that have had a discriminatory impact on communities of color,” they said. “We can make real progress towards social justice at the same time that cannabis is made safe and legal.”

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) said he is “disappointed that we are not able to get this done legislatively and that our failed status quo—which sends roughly 600 people to jail a week for possession, the majority of them people of color—will continue.”

“However, I have faith that the people of New Jersey will put us on the right side of history when they vote next November,” he said. “By approving this ballot measure before the end of this legislative session, New Jersey will move one step closer to righting a historical wrong and achieving what I have spent more than three years advocating for.”

After months of negotiation, it became apparent that that progress wasn’t going to happen legislatively in the short-term, with Sweeney indicating as early as May that legalization would likely have to be decided through a voter referendum.

Text of the resolution calling for a referendum doesn’t offer many details about what the proposed legal cannabis market would look like; rather it generally describes a system allowing adults 21 and older to use and purchase marijuana from authorized retail facilities. The state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission would be responsible for regulating the program. And cannabis sales would be subject to the state sales tax, with no additional excise tax added.

As written, the draft ballot question is worded somewhat confusingly. Voters would be asked: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”

“Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis,” it continues. “The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Retail sales of cannabis products in this new market would be subject to the State’s sales tax, and no other form of tax.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D) said in a press release that his chamber “will vote on legislation to put an adult-use cannabis question before the voters.”

“We plan to pass the measure this year and next in order for New Jerseyans to have the opportunity to make the decision in November 2020 when we expect voter turnout to be high due to the presidential election,” he said.

Prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana celebrated news of the legislature abandoning plans to pursue legalization legislatively this session and said it would invest resources into a campaign to dissuade voters from supporting the proposed ballot initiative.

While adult-use legalization hasn’t panned out as advocates hoped, Murphy did sign a bill significantly expanding the state’s medical cannabis program in July. Sweeney had pointed to that reform move as one reason legalization negotiations stalled.

It’s not clear how the ballot approach is going to impact discussions about regionally coordinating legalization plans in the Northeast, which has been ongoing since New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) met to talk about the issue over the summer.

During a joint meeting of governors from around the region last month, Murphy said that “doing things in an intelligent, coordinated, harmonious way is good for the entirety of not just our states but our residents” and emphasized the need for social justice components in a legal cannabis market.

Read the text of the New Jersey marijuana legalization referendum resolution below:

NJ Marijuana Ballot Bill by Marijuana Moment on Scribd

Sanders Pledges Legal Marijuana ‘In Every State’ As Biden Faces ‘Gateway Drug’ Backlash

This story has been updated to include comments from the governor and assembly speaker.

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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Sanders Pledges Legal Marijuana ‘In Every State’ As Biden Faces ‘Gateway Drug’ Backlash

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As former Vice President Joe Biden faces a backlash over his suggestion that marijuana could be a ‘gateway’ drug, rival presidential candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), as well as entrepreneur Andrew Yang, are touting their own support for cannabis reform proposals

One day after Biden said he doesn’t support national cannabis legalization because there’s “not nearly been enough evidence that has been acquired as to whether or not it is a gateway drug,” Sanders offered a competing vision, emphasizing in a speech that he wants to “make marijuana legal in every state in the country,” rather than allow prohibition to continue in certain states.

The senator also discussed other elements of a cannabis reform plan he released last month, including his pledge to “expunge the records of those arrested for possession of marijuana” and provide funding to promote participation in the legal industry by individuals from communities most impacted by the war on drugs.

“It sounds unfair that when we legalize marijuana, you end up having a handful of corporations controlling that industry,” Sanders said during the Sunday event in Las Vegas. “We have built into our criminal justice program an effort to provide many billions of dollars in help to people in the African-American community, Latino community, other communities, the people who have been hit the hardest by the war on drugs, to help them profit off a legal marijuana system.”

Watch Sanders’s marijuana comments, around 33:00 into the video below: 

Sanders described his three-step plan to prevent large corporations from controlling the cannabis market during an interview on Showtime’s Desus & Mero last month.

Separately, he took to Twitter on Sunday to highlight new polling showing that a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

Meanwhile, Harris also appeared to take a direct hit at Biden over his “gateway drug” comment, stating that the debate on that matter is already settled.

“Let’s be clear: marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized,” she tweeted, adding that she’s glad that a bill she and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) filed earlier this year to federally deschedule cannabis is scheduled for a vote in the House this week.

Harris herself has faced pushback from reform advocates and challengers who point out that the senator was involved in criminalizing cannabis consumers, and opposed legalization, during her time as a prosecutor.

Yang, for his part, presented a visual contrast to Biden on Monday, sharing photos of him smiling, surrounded by dozens of trimmed marijuana plants in an undisclosed facility.

He also wrote in a tweet that cannabis “should be legal nationwide” and linked to a campaign site page laying out his reform plan.

“It is already legal in several states, it reflects a safer approach to pain relief than opiates, and our administration of drug laws is deeply uneven and racist,” Yang said.

Biden has drawn criticism from lawmakers outside of the presidential race as well, with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) calling him out on Monday.

“Get with the program, @JoeBiden,” the congressman, who has spearheaded Capitol Hill efforts to end federal prohibition, said. “Not only do we have legislation that would solve the issue of research, the American people overwhelmingly support legalizing cannabis—period.”

“The war on drugs has ruined countless lives,” he said. “It’s past time we end this senseless prohibition.”

AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs

Photo courtesy of Facebook/Bernie Sanders.

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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AOC Calls For Decriminalizing The Use Of All Drugs

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Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) voiced support for decriminalizing the use of all drugs on Sunday.

The freshman congresswoman tweeted that drug decriminalization, as well as marijuana legalization, are “matters of public health.”

This marks a development in Ocasio-Cortez’s drug policy platform. Previously, she called for decriminalizing the use and research of psychedelics, emphasizing the therapeutic potential of the substances.

To that end, she introduced an amendment to a spending bill in June that would remove a rider that advocates argue has inhibited research into the potential therapeutic benefits of Schedule I drugs such as psilocybin and LSD. The House rejected that measure in a floor vote, however.

There’s a growing push to decriminalize the personal possession of drugs beyond cannabis. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), both Democratic presidential candidates, are in favor of the policy. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports decriminalizing opioids as a means to combat the drug overdose crisis.

Ocasio-Cortez recently gave her endorsement to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). But while the senator was the first major presidential candidate to back marijuana legalization during his 2016 run, he said this year he’s “not there yet” on broader drug decriminalization. It’s not clear if the congresswoman’s role as a surrogate on his campaign will ultimately influence him to adopt the policy.

But as more candidates debate the best way forward on various drug reform proposals, with cannabis legalization being a given for almost all contenders, former Vice President Joe Biden remains several paces behind. He opposes adult-use legalization and said on Saturday that marijuana may be a gateway to other, more dangerous substances.

Biden Says Marijuana Might Be A Gateway Drug

Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

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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