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Where Presidential Candidate Seth Moulton Stands On Marijuana

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Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) announced on April 22, 2019 that he was competing for the 2020 Democratic nomination and dropped out of the race on August 23.

An Iraq War veteran who has sponsored legislation to reform cannabis policies at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)—and who endorsed marijuana legalization prior to the voters of his state enacting it—the congressman earned a “B+” grade from NORML. Here’s a closer look at his record on cannabis.

This piece was last updated on August 29, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Moulton has been the chief sponsor of six marijuana-related bills, all of which focus on medical cannabis for military veterans.

During the 115th and 116th Congresses, he introduced bipartisan legislation that would require the VA to survey veterans about medical marijuana and another bill that would direct the department to provide training on cannabis to primary care physicians.

The congressman also filed a bill that would protect veterans from losing VA benefits due to marijuana use that’s in compliance with state law.

“Veterans want an alternative to opioids, and Congress should support them,” Moulton said in a press release about the package of bills. “Let’s not kid ourselves: people are using marijuana—including our veterans. Rather than ignoring this reality, Congress should let doctors talk with their patients about it, and we should learn more about cannabis so it can be safely used and properly regulated.”

“We have a long road ahead of us until medicinal cannabis is fully-researched and legal, but a few steps now will speed that along. Veterans deserve the best healthcare in the world,” he said. “This is a step in that direction.”

Outside of filing those bills, Moulton has signed on as a cosponsor of over a dozen other pieces of cannabis legislation, including bills that would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances and exempt state-legal marijuana activity from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Moulton has also cosponsored bipartisan bills that would shield banks that service state-legal marijuana businesses from being penalized by federal regulators and another to provide for tax fairness for the cannabis industry.

Other legislation he has signed onto would require the federal government to study the effects of state legalization laws, direct the VA conduct clinical trials on medical cannabis for veterans, shield federal employees from being fired for state-legal marijuana use and allow students to retain federal financial aid if they’re convicted of cannabis possession and complete a drug rehabilitation program.

He also cosponsored bills that would allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis for veterans and to require the Justice Department to approve additional marijuana manufacturer licenses for research purposes.

The first piece of marijuana legislation that Moulton cosponsored was the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would amend the CSA to protect medical marijuana patients and place cannabis in Schedule II.

In terms of votes on amendments, the congressman has a consistent track record of supporting reform on the House floor. In 2015, he voted in favor of amendments to protects states that have legalized marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, as well as states that have legalized CBD and industrial hemp. He also voted for amendments to allow VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis in 2015 and 2016.

On The Campaign Trail

Moulton wrote an op-ed for The Washington Examiner in which he advocated for legislation providing access to medical cannabis for veterans.

“There are places we have to strictly enforce drug laws and places we need to liberalize them, but there’s no question that the vast majority of cities and countries that have decriminalized drugs have seen an improvement in their addicted populations,” he said. “It’s time for change.”

“Ultimately, making the VA a place where veterans can discuss and maybe someday access cannabis, will help our country evolve on this issue too. Through that evolution, I believe we will be able to tackle bigger challenges together—like ending the fundamentally-unjust process of locking people up for possessing marijuana, and, in effect, sentencing them to a lifetime of fewer job opportunities. I support releasing people who are in jail for marijuana possession and expunging their records, especially because Americans in more than half the states in the nation voted to decriminalize this.”

He included adopting a “holistic approach to treatment, including alternative therapies like mindfulness, exercise, & cannabis” in a mental health plan he released in May 2019.

The same month, Moulton said that people in prison for marijuana should be released and have their records expunged.

The congressman said that when he was enlisting in the Marines, he was asked about his cannabis use and that he was privileged to have been accepted after telling the truth that he did previously consume marijuana while others may be denied. He made the admission while advocating for an amendment that would provide military reenlistment waivers for those who only used marijuana once, which cleared a congressional committee in March and was later approved by the full House.

“I’ve seen the statistics of how unbelievably unjust these laws are applied,” he told Business Insider in June 2019 while discussing racial disparities in marijuana enforcement.

“Our criminal justice system is historically unfair,” he tweeted. “One thing we can do to address it is legalize marijuana and make sure those with minor marijuana offenses—who are overwhelmingly people of color—have their records cleared.”

Moulton also delivered a keynote address via video for a cannabis conference.

The congressman told The Boston Globe that he is open to decriminalizing drugs beyond cannabis and that he supports legalizing safe injection sites where people can use illicit drugs like heroin in a medically supervised environment.

“There are places we have to strictly enforce drug laws and places we need to liberalize them, but there’s no question that the vast majority of cities and countries that have decriminalized drugs have seen an improvement in their addicted populations,” he said.

In an interview with Newsy, Moulton said that he is “absolutely open to exploring” legalizing drugs like psilocybin but that more research is needed.

“This is part of our job in Congress is, rather than being black and white about these issues when we don’t even understand the facts, this is a good example of something where I just need to learn the facts and understand more about it,” he said.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Moulton isn’t especially prolific when it comes to talking about marijuana on social media as compared to some other candidates, but what he has said bodes well for reform advocates.

Importantly, he publicly endorsed Massachusetts’s cannabis legalization measure ahead of Election Day in  2016—something that fellow 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) declined to do.

“I support legalization, but we do need to make sure it’s done right,” he said at the time. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

“One of the advantages of legalization is it will force us to come to terms with things already happening in Massachusetts today, like people driving under the influence of marijuana and kids using it,” he told WBGH. “If you’re not buying your marijuana from a dealer who sells heroin, who sells opioids, it’s much less likely to be a gateway drug. The problem is now that it operates in the shadows.”

After voters approved the legalization initiative, Moulton said that the state legislature should “dramatically raise the taxes” on marijuana to raise revenue and help fund law enforcement efforts, and he said there’s “a lot of work to be done” that “needs to start right away.”

“There’s a lot that the state legislature needs to do,” Moulton said. “My whole reason for endorsing this was that we’ve got to bring marijuana out of the shadows and actually regulate it. That’s up to the state legislature. So I think this is an important step in the right direction because, let’s not kid ourselves, people were getting access to marijuana today and they were getting access to it yesterday as well.”

Moulton often talks about bringing cannabis “out of the shadows” so that it can be regulated. And he criticized the lack of operating dispensaries in Massachusetts, observing that cannabis will still be sold and consumed in jurisdictions that aren’t allowing the shops.

“The reality is, we’re not going to make marijuana go away by pretending that it’s not in our community,” he said in 2018. “What we ought to be doing is figuring out ways to regulate its use responsibly because otherwise it’s going to be used in the shadows.”

“It’s not my role as a United States representative to come and tell Peabody what to do, but I’m certainly entitled to my opinion and that is my view of this issue,” he said. “I think we’ve got to wake up to the world that we’re in and be responsible about regulating these substances that are a part of our community—and can be used safely, if used appropriately—rather than outlawing them and pretending that they’re not going to be here at all.”

The congressman also applauded the Salem for accepting marijuana businesses, saying that the city was “leading the way.”

“I think the demand that we see proves what I have said all along: People are using marijuana and they want to use it legally, and we should allow them to use it legally and safely with the proper regulation, rather than pretend by outlawing it, people are going to stop,” he said.

Speaking about legislation he filed with respect to veterans and marijuana, Moulton said in 2018 that “it’s clear that this is where things are going” and noted his support for Massachusetts’s legalization initiative. He said “we need to realize people are going to use marijuana whether we like it or not, so let’s make it legal and let’s regulate it to make it safe.”

While testing the waters in the primary state of Iowa in March 2019, Moulton talked about his support for cannabis decriminalization and said that it can help veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and also serve as an alternative to opioid painkillers.

He also talked about his veterans bills on the Cannabis Economy podcast, saying he and fellow sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) “want to make it very clear to everybody—to veterans, to healthcare providers—that if you’re using cannabis, you should talk about it.”

“You should be able to have an honest, transparent conversation with your healthcare provider so that they can give you better health care,” he said.

Moulton criticized then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he rescinded Obama-era guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities.

“This is the opposite of what we should be doing. Let’s not kid ourselves—people will be using marijuana regardless of what Attorney General Sessions says,” he wrote. “We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.”

His House reelection campaign subsequently put out a survey claiming that the Trump administration “wants to crack down on possession—hurting those in need of medicinal marijuana and putting new businesses in jeopardy” and posed the question: “do you think the Trump Administration should be interfering with states marijuana laws?”

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Moulton said he has tried marijuana “a couple times” while he was a student at Harvard University, but he added that he “certainly didn’t qualify as a pothead.”

In March 2019, the congressman said “I’ve used weed, and I’m not in prison.”

“Why? Because I didn’t get caught, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I’m white,” he said. That’s the sad reality of criminal justice in America today.”

One month later, he repeated that point during a CNN town hall event.

“I smoked weed when I was younger,” he said. “I didn’t get caught, but if I had, I would’ve been fine. Because I’m a white guy.”

Marijuana Under A Moulton Presidency

Moulton has made marijuana reform—particularly for veterans seeking medical cannabis—somewhat of a priority during his time in Congress. He hasn’t added his name as a cosponsor to broad, equity-focused bills like the Marijuana Justice Act, but he has repeatedly said that the country should regulate cannabis sales to bring it out of the shadows.

And having endorsed the legalization measure in Massachusetts prior to its approval by voters in 2016, Moulton would be in a position to take similar leadership on the issue if elected president.

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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 Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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