Connect with us

Politics

Where Presidential Candidate Michael Bennet Stands On Marijuana

Published

on

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) announced on May 2, 2019 that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and he dropped out of the race on February 11, 2020.

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 February 11, 2020 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.”

Those agencies responded in letters shared exclusively with Marijuana Moment two months later.

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.

“Hemp farmers and processors have made clear that the lack of access to the banking system is a significant hurdle to growing their business,” Bennet said after federal regulators responded to a letter he sent requesting clarification on the issue. “We’ll keep working to remove this major barrier facing the hemp industry.”

He also cheered subsequent guidance from financial regulators on banking options for hemp businesses, citing his earlier letter.

His campaign said in a statement last year that Bennet’s prior experience as a school superintendent is partly why he’s committed to ensuring that “young people do not have access” to marijuana.

He also said that during his time in that position, he was worried about kids consuming cannabis edibles, but it’s “something we’ve been able to fix over time.”

Bennet spoke at a cannabis investor event hosted by The Arcview Group in October 2019.

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

Missouri Lawmakers Must Legalize Marijuana With Freedom In Mind, Former Prisoner Says (Op-Ed)

Published

on

“It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.”

By Jeff Mizanskey, Missouri Independent

In 1984, I was arrested for felony possession of marijuana for a half-pound of marijuana, for which I served five years of probation.

In 1991, I was arrested for possession of two ounces of marijuana, for which I served 60 days in county prison.

Finally, in 1993, I was arrested as an accessory in a deal for seven pounds of marijuana, and although I had no intention of possession or distribution, a jury convicted me and a circuit court judge sentenced me to life in prison under Missouri’s now-repealed prior and persistent offender statute.

During the next 22 years, American voters came to the realization that marijuana was a very beneficial medicine with a low risk profile, and state by state began passing medical marijuana laws or outright legalization.

Ultimately, then-Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon commuted my sentence after state Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, filed legislation to require parole for marijuana offenders serving life sentences. My case was also supported by a national coalition of people and organizations who were shocked by the harshness of my sentence.

In 2018, Missouri voters passed a medical marijuana proposal at the ballot, which now allows people to obtain a physician’s recommendation for marijuana and has created a legal market for production and sales. The only controversy over legal medical marijuana has been over the restrictions on commercial licensing—85 percent of the over 2,200 applicants for marijuana business licenses were rejected in a process widely seen as arbitrary and unfair.

Now, two different ballot initiative campaigns, backed by different groups claiming to represent the marijuana industry, are competing to again change the Missouri Constitution to legalize recreational marijuana. But both of these proposals have significant flaws. Most significantly, both proposals create limits on personal marijuana possession and allow civil and criminal charges, including felonies, for possession of more than twice the possession limits.

Coupled with tight restrictions on commercial marijuana licensing, Missouri might continue to see a two-tiered system of justice and economic opportunity, where a privileged wealthy few are allowed to profit from legal marijuana sales while poor and politically weak Missourians continue to be sanctioned for the proposed crime of possessing too much marijuana.

By contrast, there is no other item of legal personal property that Missouri law creates a possession limit for, and I’ll point out specifically alcohol, our most dangerous drug, for which there are over 16,000 licenses for on and off premise sales registered in our state and no possession limits for individuals.

In January, the Missouri General Assembly will reconvene, and only the elected representatives of the people have the ability and the political will to consider these issues and take in input from all stakeholders. It is important that our elected officials consider what path may be best and ultimately fulfill the increasing demand from voters for greater liberty and freedom in our state.

Jeff Mizanskey is a resident of Sedalia and veteran of the United States Air Force. In 2015, he was released from a life sentence for nonviolent marijuana charges after then-Gov. Jay Nixon commuted his sentence.

This piece was fist published by Missouri Independent.

Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Indiana GOP Lawmaker Plans Medical Marijuana Bill As Democrats Push Full Recreational Legalization

Published

on

“It polls higher than any other issue. We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

By Margaret Menge, The Center Square

Democrats in Indiana have launched a campaign to legalize marijuana in the state and appealed to business-friendly Republicans to join to help the state’s economy.

There is some support from Republicans.

“I have a medical cannabis bill ready to go,” Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, said.

He said the bill will be similar to the one he introduced in the last session of the Indiana General Assembly, which would permit the use of medical marijuana by people with “serious medical conditions” as determined by a doctor, and would permit the “cultivation, testing, processing, transportation and dispensing” of medical marijuana by people who hold a valid permit issued by the state.

It also would put the Indiana Department of Health in charge of implementing and enforcing the medical marijuana program.

Indiana is one of just a handful of states that has not legalized medical marijuana.

“It polls higher than any other issue,” Lucas said. “We’ve seen 38 other states step up and do the right thing for their citizens. We know it saves lives. We know it offers a better quality of life.”

In 2016, the national American Legion, which is based in Indianapolis, called on Congress to remove marijuana from Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act and reclassify it to “recognize cannabis as a drug with potential medical value.”

The Legion has also pushed for more research to be done on marijuana related to its potential in treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury among veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular.

The Indiana American Legion, however, has not taken a position on the issue, and did not discuss the bill Lucas introduced in the last session, spokesperson Josh Marshall said.

He said the issue would have to be reviewed by the organization’s executive committee before any action were taken on the issue in the upcoming session of the legislature, which begins January 3.

Meanwhile, Indiana Democrats are pushing to get the issue on the table.

Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, is set to lead a “community talking circle” at a pizza place in Muncie today to hear from the public about legalizing medical marijuana.

“The reality is that medical cannabis is becoming an accepted and preferred method of treatment throughout the country,” Errington said in a statement from the Indiana House Democratic Caucus on November 29. “Medical cannabis is a safe, non-addictive alternative to opioids that could benefit Hoosiers who live with chronic pain and anxiety disorders, including our brave veterans who struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder. Those who have sacrificed so much for our state deserve an effective treatment for their pain, rather than a potential criminal record.”

Republicans hold a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and hold every statewide office. But legislative leaders—some of them—have appeared more open on the issue in recent years.

In 2018, the Republican floor leader in the Indiana House of Representatives, Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, authored a resolution calling for an interim study committee to research medical marijuana.

“Hoosiers rightfully want to know what direction Indiana will take,” he said at the time. “I believe it is wise of policymakers to carefully gather public and professional input.”

Lehman told Fox59 last month that he thinks there’s “always room for discussion” about medical marijuana, but that he thought the federal government would have to act first, before Indiana takes action.

This story was first published by The Center Square.

Ohio GOP Lawmakers File New Marijuana Legalization Bill

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

DEA Backs White House Plan To Streamline Research On Marijuana, Psychedelics And Other Schedule I Drugs

Published

on

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and National Institute On Drug Abuse (NIDA) say they are in favor of a White House proposal to streamline the process of researching Schedule I drugs like marijuana and certain psychedelics.

The agencies testified at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Thursday, expressing support for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) research plan. While the focus of the meeting was mostly on a controversial move to strictly classify fentanyl-related substances, the Biden administration proposal’s research components would also help address concerns within the scientific community about the difficulty of studying other Schedule I drugs.

DEA said in written testimony that “expanding access to Schedule I research is a critical part of DEA’s mission to protect public safety and health.”

“It is critical that the scientific and medical community study Schedule I substances, as some may turn out to have therapeutic value,” DEA Principal Deputy Administrator Louis Milione said. “DEA supports the administration’s legislative proposal’s expansion of access to Schedule I research. DEA looks forward to continuing to work with the research community and our interagency partners to facilitate Schedule I research.”

In general, what the administration is proposing is to align the research requirements for Schedule I drugs with those of less-restricted Schedule II drugs. Scientists and lawmakers have consistently pointed out that the existing rules for studying Schedule I controlled substances are excessively burdensome, limiting vital research.

Rather than having each scientist involved in a Schedule I drug study obtain DEA registration, ONDCP wants to make it so multiple researchers at a given institution would be allowed to participate under a single registration. The administration also proposed a policy change where a research institute with studies taking place over multiple locations would only require one overall registration instead of needing to have a specific one for each site.

Another change would allow certain researchers to move ahead with conducting their studies after submitting a notification to the Department of Justice instead of waiting for officials to affirmatively sign off on their proposals. ONDCP’s plan would also waive the requirement for additional inspections at research sites in some circumstances and allow researchers to manufacture small amounts of drugs without obtaining separate registrations. The latter component would not allow cultivation of marijuana, however.

“Even experienced researchers have reported that obtaining a new Schedule I registration, adding new substances to an existing registration, or getting approval for research protocol changes is time consuming,” NIDA Director Nora Volkow said in her testimony. “Unlike for Schedule II through V substances, new and amended Schedule I applications are referred by the DEA to the HHS for a review of the protocol and a determination of the qualifications and competency of the investigator.”

“Researchers have reported that sometimes these challenges impact Schedule I research and deter or prevent scientists from pursuing this critical work,” she said.

In an interview last week, Vokow said that even she—the top federal official overseeing drug research—is personally reluctant to conduct studies on Schedule I substances like marijuana because of the “cumbersome” rules that scientists face when investigating them.

When ONDCP first announced its proposed Schedule I policy changes in September, some experts tempered expectations about the practical effects of aligning Schedule I and Schedule II applications. The difference is largely a matter of extra paperwork for the more restrictive category, they contend.

Regardless, several lawmakers who attended Thursday’s subcommittee hearing expressed enthusiasm about the prospects of these policy changes.

“I’m particularly interested in eroding existing barriers of federal law that limit researchers at academic medical centers from studying Schedule I substances,” Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said. “So I’m grateful that our research agencies are working to find effective solutions.”

Rep. Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) also weighed in, saying that “we all agree that the current scheduling classification system has made it very difficult for scientists to research the effects of scheduled compounds, which may have medicinal properties.”

“For example, we know that compounds in marijuana have legitimate and beneficial medical uses, despite it being Schedule I,” he said. “So I’m encouraged to see that efforts are being made to allow researchers to study the effects of various compounds. In this proposal.”

ONDCP’s intent to streamline research into Schedule I drugs has been notable and seems to be part of a theme that developed within the administration.

For example, DEA has repeatedly proposed significant increases in the production of marijuana, psilocybin and other psychedelics for research purposes, with the intent of aiding in the development of new federally approved therapeutic medications.

NIDA’s Volkow told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that she was encouraged by DEA’s prior proposed increase in drug production quota. She also said that studies demonstrating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics could be leading more people to experiment with substances like psilocybin.

But while the production developments are promising, advocates are still frustrated that these plants and fungi remain in the strictest drug category in the first place, especially considering the existing research that shows their medical value for certain conditions.

There has been at least one recent development in the fight to modernize marijuana research. President Joe Biden signed a massive infrastructure bill last month that includes provisions aimed at allowing researchers to study the actual cannabis that consumers are purchasing from state-legal dispensaries instead of having to use only government-grown cannabis.

But that’s just one of numerous research barriers that scientists have identified. A report that NIDA recently submitted to Congress stressed that the Schedule I status of controlled substances like marijuana is preventing or discouraging research into their potential risks and benefits.

A federal appeals court recently dismissed a petition to require the DEA to reevaluate cannabis’s scheduling under the Controlled Substances Act. However, one judge did say in a concurring opinion that the agency may soon be forced to consider a policy change anyway based on a misinterpretation of the therapeutic value of marijuana.

Meanwhile, DEA has given hemp businesses that sell delta-8 THC products a boost, with representatives making comments recently signaling that, at the federal level at least, it’s not a controlled substance at this time.

Separately, the Washington State attorney general’s office and lawyers representing cancer patients recently urged a federal appeals panel to push for a DEA policy change to allow people in end-of-life care to access psilocybin under state and federal right-to-try laws.

White House Pressed To Mediate Marijuana Finger-Pointing Between DEA And HHS

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment