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Where Presidential Candidate Michael Bloomberg Stands On Marijuana

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Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched a late bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination on November 24, 2019 and dropped out of the race on March 4, 2020.

The billionaire candidate, who runs the news and financial data company Bloomberg LP, is making the case that he’s best positioned to defeat President Trump in the 2020 election. Bloomberg has a long history of speaking out against marijuana law reform, and his record on discriminatory policing tactics as mayor has given advocates pause about his candidacy.

Bloomberg not only opposes legalization—putting him in a category of current candidates that includes only former Vice President Joe Biden—but called the policy change the “stupidest thing anybody has ever done.”

Since launching his presidential candidacy, however, Bloomberg has embraced decriminalization of cannabis possession and said that states should be able to set their own laws without federal interference.

Here’s a closer look at where the former mayor stands on drug policy.

This piece was last updated on March 6, 2020 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Bloomberg served three terms as mayor of New York City, beginning in 2002. While he changed parties throughout that time, one consistent factor under his administration was a high level of arrests for marijuana possession.

From 2002 to 2012, the NYPD made about 440,000 arrests for cannabis possession alone, collectively spending about one million hours processing those cases, according to a report from the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). Overall, there were more marijuana arrests under Bloomberg than under the mayorships of Ed Koch, David Dinkins and Rudy Giuliani combined.

Via DPA.

DPA paid particularly close attention to cannabis policy under Bloomberg, releasing reports year-over-year on arrest data, which peaked in 2011 despite the state having decriminalized low-level possession in the 1970s. The group also highlighted consistent racial disparities in cannabis arrests in the city.

The high volume of arrests prompted City Council members and activists to rally outside of Bloomberg’s home in 2011, demanding an end to the aggressive enforcement.

Bloomberg came out against a 2011 state bill, introduced by then-Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D) and Sen. Mark Grisanti (R), that sought to make possession of 25 grams or less of cannabis punishable by a court summons and fine rather than jail time.

“This would encourage smoking in the streets and in our parks, reversing successful efforts to clean up neighborhoods and eliminate the open-air drug markets like we used to find in Washington Square Park,” a mayoral aide told The New York Times. “Hot-spot policing that focuses on the most violent neighborhoods has led to dramatic reductions in violent crime. Marijuana arrests can be an effective tool for suppressing the expansion of street-level drug markets and the corresponding violence.”

The aide also said that concerns about the impact of a possession conviction on a young person’s record are overblown.

“They are not saddled with criminal records because those records are sealed,” he said, adding that there are restrictions on what employers can ask about prior convictions.

The next year, Bloomberg voiced support for a modest reform proposal that called for an end to arrests of people for possessing cannabis in public view, which advocates argued often stemmed from unlawful searches. The measure faced resistance from Senate Republicans, however.

During his State Of the City address in 2013, the mayor said he supported New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) proposal to make cannabis possession a violation rather than a misdemeanor.

“We know that there’s more we can do to keep New Yorkers, particularly young men, from ending up with a criminal record,” he said.

He also said the city “won’t wait for that to happen” and announced that people arrested for low-level possession in New York City would no longer be held overnight if they presented an ID and passed a warrant check.

“It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most,” he said.

Throughout Bloomberg’s terms, he faced sharp criticism over the police department’s widespread use of a controversial stop-and-frisk policy, whereby officers frequently detained people—the majority of cases involving people of color—and searched them. Weapons were rarely produced in these searches.

In 2013, the mayor vetoed two policing reform bills that were meant to cut down on police misconduct and rein in instances of stop-and-frisk. The first gave the inspector general subpoena power to study policing encounters and make policy recommendations, and the other allowed state courts to take up claims of “bias-based policing” and broadened the scope of offenses that could be litigated.

“Some of these things are life and death issues, like these two horrendous bills in the City Council and they’re going to put our police officers at risk and they’re going to put the public at risk and I’ve got an obligation to tell people that,” the mayor argued.

The City Council later overrode Bloomberg’s actions, however.

Before local lawmakers stepped in, Bloomberg ignited controversy after doubling down on his opposition to the reform proposals by stating, “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.”

On The Campaign Trail

In February, Bloomberg released a criminal justice plan that includes decriminalizing marijuana, commuting sentences and expunging records—but does not include legalizing cannabis. It says that decisions on cannabis laws should be left to states “for the moment” and that “further scientific study is required to assess the health effects of marijuana.”

During a debate that same month, the former mayor expressed concerns about legalizing cannabis, saying that “you should listen to the scientists and the doctors. They say go very slowly, they haven’t done enough research and the evidence so far is worrisome. Before we get all our kids—particularly kids in their late teens, boys even more than girls—where this may be damaging their brains, until we know the science, it’s just nonsensical to push ahead.”

But also he voiced support for expunging records and letting states set their own laws, adding that “we should not make this a criminal thing if you have a small amount. For dealers, yes. But for the average person, no.”

Asked in February whether his previous declaration that legalizing marijuana is “perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done” meant that he thought voters in Colorado were dumb for approving it, the candidate said what’s “really dumb” is “putting people in jail for marijuana.”

The prior month, a top staffer for prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana stepped down to go work for Bloomberg’s campaign.

In a March interview, the former mayor discussed his past marijuana use and said he would support changing federal cannabis laws while also raising concerns that legalization could increase domestic violence and would mean letting “young people ruin their future.”

He told the Colorado Sun that “the science on marijuana urges a ‘go slow’ approach until there is better medical evidence of its health effects.”

Asked by Americas Quarterly about what it would mean for other countries to legalize marijuana, Bloomberg said he “will work with our partners to combat all illicit trade – including marijuana and other drugs smuggled into the U.S. No one should be arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana. Possession of small amounts should be decriminalized. And I won’t interfere with states that have legalized it.”

It was in December 2019, that Bloomberg first broke with his prior opposition to even modest cannabis reform and backed decriminalizing marijuana and allowing states to set their own policies.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Bloomberg has made it patently clear that he’s no fan marijuana legalization, repeatedly making dismissive comments about both the policy and cannabis consumers themselves.

The former mayor didn’t hold back during a speech before the Aspen Institute in 2015, when he called marijuana legalization “a terrible, terrible idea” and suggested that cannabis use is associated with reduced IQ.

But another part of that speech would later come back to haunt him after he entered the presidential race in particular. The recording also showed Bloomberg justifying controversial police tactics and defending the practice, as well as racially disparate marijuana arrests, by arguing that 95 percent of murderers and murder victims are black.

He was widely criticized for the comments when recording of the speech resurfaced, and he was pressed on it during a presidential debate.

In January 2019, as most candidates were gearing up to propose bold drug policy reform plans, the former mayor said that rising rates of drug overdose deaths, which were primarily linked to opioids, demonstrated why marijuana shouldn’t be legal.

“Today incidentally, we are trying to legalize another addictive narcotic,” he said, referring to cannabis, “which is perhaps the stupidest thing anybody has ever done. We’ve got to fight that, and that’s another thing that Bloomberg Philanthropies will work on it in public health.”

He made similar comments the week prior during a speech at the University of Toronto, arguing that ending prohibition at the national and local levels “doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“To go and encourage people—to make it easier for people to engage in a behavior that has a significant possibility of damaging people’s health—is just nonsensical,” he said. “This mad, passionate rush to let everybody do things without any research just isn’t something we would do in any other way.”

Also in 2019, Bloomberg shamed a father and son who passed away from an opioid overdose, calling them “not a good family” during a speech at a forum in Manhattan.

He went on to voice opposition to the marijuana legalization movement.

“And then we are going hellbent for whether in this country to legalize marijuana, another addictive drug, where we’ve never done the research to what it does to people,” he said. “Maybe, in the end, it’s going to turn out that it doesn’t hurt, but preliminary evidence shows it reduces a teenage user of marijuana’s IQ by 10 points and it doesn’t come back.”

Bloomberg said in 2013 that he doesn’t support cannabis legalization because THC potency has increased and because he thinks drug dealers would simply move on to selling other illicit products such as cocaine.

Three days before a 2013 New York state legislature vote to allow medical cannabis for individuals suffering from debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, Bloomberg made dismissive comments about marijuana’s therapeutic value.

“Yeah, right, medical, my foot,” he said. “Come on. There’s no medical—this is one of the great hoaxes of all times.”

He said in 2002 that the problem with legalizing cannabis for medical purposes is that it represents a “slippery slope” and that “using drugs is probably a terrible idea, from where it goes, and I am very much in favor of enforcing laws on the books.”

“I do not think that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea,” he said.

”I’ve always thought if we don’t want to enforce laws on the books, we should remove them from the books. But when you have laws, you breed contempt if you don’t enforce them,” he said. ”And I’ve listened to a lot of people over the years discuss the decriminalization of some narcotics, particularly marijuana, and on balance, I would side with those that think it’s a bad idea.”

Bloomberg revealed the extent of his hostility to drugs in 2012 when he seemed to sympathize with Singapore’s use of the death penalty against people who sell drugs.

“In lots of places in the Far East, they have signs up, ‘Death to drug dealers,'” he said. “Think about the number of people who die from drug use here in this country. And yet we don’t take it seriously enough to dissuade people… Executing a handful of people saves thousands and thousands of lives.”

He added that he wasn’t necessarily endorsing extrajudicial killings of drug traffickers because such policies “don’t fit our definition of democracy.”

“I’m not suggesting we go kill ’em. But when you talk to people overseas, they can’t understand why we allow people to deal in drugs [that] are killing people,” he said. “The focus that they do have on protecting their people is something that we should think long and hard about.”

He also voiced skepticism about ending prohibition in that interview, stating that it’s “intriguing, but I don’t quite think I’ve ever quite gotten there, to support the legalization of drugs.”

In 2015, the former mayor peddled a debunked theory about cannabis use decreasing people’s IQ.

“What are we going to say in 10 years when we see all these kids whose IQs are 5 and 10 points lower than they would have been?” he said of efforts to legalize marijuana. “I couldn’t feel more strongly about it, and my girlfriend says it’s no different than alcohol. It is different than alcohol. This is one of the stupider things that’s happening across our country.”

On his support for stop-and-frisk policing, Bloomberg had been largely unapologetic up until just before launching his presidential bid. After a federal court ruled in 2013 that the policy was discriminatory and mandated a change, the then-mayor held a press conference where he defended the tactic, arguing that it’s “saved lives” and helped reduce incarceration rates.

“We are the poster child that everybody wants to follow,” he said, adding that police “go to where the reports of crime are” and those places “unfortunately happen to be poor neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods.”

Bloomberg apologized for the discriminatory policy days before announcing his candidacy for president.

“I can’t change history,” Bloomberg said. “However today, I want you to know that I realize back then I was wrong.”

Recently, the billionaire has invested his resources into another battle that’s generated pushback from reform advocates. He’s taken a strong stance in favor of bans on flavored vaping products—a position that advocates worry will encourage more people to obtain potentially dangerous products from the illicit market and also risk having former cigarette smokers return to the combustable form.

“Ten weeks ago, President Trump said he would ban flavored e-cigarettes that are causing an e-cigarette epidemic among children,” Bloomberg said in November 2019. “Today we learned that he walked away from his commitment and caved to tobacco lobbyists. American families deserve better. If President Trump won’t take steps to protect our children, then we need someone in the office who will.”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

While it may come as a surprise given his record on marijuana criminalization and dismissive comments about consumers, Bloomberg is among the many Americans who have tried cannabis.

One year before launching his mayoral bid, Bloomberg was asked by New York Magazine whether he’s used marijuana and he responded, “You bet I did—and I enjoyed it.” The comment was used in an advertisement that the advocacy group NORML later took out in The New York Times and on buses.

Via NORML.

He said in 2002 that he regretted making the comment, even though he acknowledged that “what I said back then was the truth.”

”In terms of, I had, certainly when I was younger, as I suppose most people in my generation, experimented. I never lie, so if somebody asked me a question, I told them,” he said. “Do I, in retrospect, wish I didn’t say it that day so they couldn’t quote it? Of course.”

Via NORML.

Marijuana Under A Bloomberg Presidency

At a time when marijuana reform has become a bipartisan issue that’s advancing even in Congress, when all but one other Democratic candidate backs broad legalization and when a majority of states have legalized cannabis in one form or another, Bloomberg stands out as a vocal opponent of the reform movement.

And unlike Biden, who helped write some of the punitive anti-drug laws that advocates have worked for decades to reform and remains opposed to adult-use legalization, Bloomberg has so far given no indication that he’s evolved on the issue to back even modest reforms. While it’s possible that the candidate will be encouraged to lay out an updated position as the topic is raised on the campaign trail, it does not seem likely at this point that he would support efforts to change federal marijuana laws and may in fact obstruct such efforts if elected to the Oval Office.

Where Presidential Candidate Deval Patrick 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.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Los Angeles-based associate editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation

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A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.

“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.

“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”

“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”

Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.

“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”

“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.

Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.

“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”

Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.

For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.

Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.

Eleven Senators Push To Let Marijuana Businesses Access Federal Loan Programs

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus

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North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.

“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”

Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.

“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”

The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.

North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.

The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.

California activists for campaigns to amend the state’s legal cannabis program and legalize psilocybin mushrooms are asking for a digital signature option.

Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.

Virginia Groups Push Governor To Amend Marijuana Decriminalization Bill On His Desk

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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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Arizona Legal Marijuana Campaign Asks Supreme Court To Allow Electronic Signatures Amid Coronavirus

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Several campaigns to put initiatives on Arizona’s November ballot—including one to legalize marijuana—are asking the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has made in-person ballot petitioning all but impossible.

Smart and Safe Arizona, the group behind the cannabis measure, along with three other campaigns, filed a petition with the court on Thursday, requesting that it direct the secretary of state to let them digitally collect signatures. They stressed that the infrastructure already exists, as residents are able to use a system called E-Qual to sign ballot petitions for individual candidates running for office.

While the marijuana campaign has already gathered more than 320,000 signatures, which is well over the required 237,645 signatures for statutory proposals, they have yet to be verified and activists would like to continue collection efforts to ensure that they qualify for the ballot.

In the filing, the groups argued that limiting the E-Qual system to office seekers is unconstitutional. However, state law stipulates that it can only be used for that purpose, so it remains to be seen whether court action will produce the intended result. There was a bill filed last year to expand its utility to allow digital signature gathering for initiatives, but it has not advanced in the legislature.

“Legal access to E-Qual for these citizen initiatives is the right thing for public health and democracy,” attorneys representing the groups said in a statement. “Following Governor Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order issued Monday and current CDC recommendations, gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures on paper, at people’s homes, or in public spaces, is impossible to do safely and responsibly during this pandemic. E-Qual is a very reasonable remedy.”

The legalization petition would allow individuals 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. People could possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time and cultivate up to six plants for personal use.

The measure also contains several restorative justice provisions such as allowing individuals with prior marijuana convictions to petition the courts for expungements and establishing a social equity ownership program

Cannabis sales would be taxed at 16 percent. Tax revenue would cover implementation costs and then would be divided among funds for community colleges, infrastructure, a justice reinvestment and public services such as police and firefighters.

The Department of Health Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses. It would also be tasked with deciding on whether to expand the program to allow for delivery services.

“The Committees have explored potential alternatives, such as mailing petitions to interested persons to circulate within their families,” Smart and Safe Arizona Campaign Manager Stacy Pearson said in a declaration filed with the court. “This, however, is expensive, inefficient, and has no realistic likelihood of permitting the Committees’ to gather large numbers of valid petition signatures.”

The legalization group was joined by campaigns to limit school vouchers, provide sentencing reform and increase taxes on the wealthy to fund public education in the petition. Separately, two other campaigns—to enact voting reform and end surprise hospital billings—filed a similar lawsuit in a federal court on Thursday.

Smart and Safe Arizona is not the only drug policy reform campaign to request electronic signature gathering since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Activists in California released a video last month asking officials to allow digital signatures for a petition to revise the state’s adult-use marijuana program. In Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics similarly wrote to the mayor and local lawmakers, imploring them to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.

Another California campaign to legalize psilocybin mushrooms is struggling and asking for electronic signature gathering to qualify for the ballot.

Others have generally shut down campaign activities in light of the pandemic, which has resulted in shutter businesses and shelter-in-place orders across the country.

An effort to legalize medical cannabis in Nebraska is facing similar signature gathering challenges. A campaign to legalize cannabis in Missouri is also in jeopardy.

In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.

Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”

Idaho Activists Suspend Campaign To Legalize Medical Marijuana Due To Coronavirus

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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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