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.
This week I introduced legislation that aims to reform VA medical marijuana practices. We should support our veterans who seek alternatives to highly addictive opioids ravaging our communities. https://t.co/sKhVY9rw3t
— TeamMoulton (@teammoulton) November 15, 2018
“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.
Legal marijuana companies lack access to banking – making it more difficult for states to track tax revenue and posing a threat to public safety. That's why I'm supporting @RepPerlmutter's SAFE Banking Act #HR2215. https://t.co/WXK1aSnaaU
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) February 27, 2018
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.
—Make mental health check-ups as routine as physicals for active-duty military & veterans
—Require mandatory counseling for everyone returning from a combat deployment
—Adopt a holistic approach to treatment, including alternative therapies like mindfulness, exercise, & cannabis
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) May 28, 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.”
Our criminal justice system is historically unfair. 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. pic.twitter.com/CUpUPJLRFW
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 20, 2019
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.”
MA's 1st medical marijuana dispensary opened in Salem on Weds – a big step for those suffering from painful diseases. http://t.co/Pjnat7dx5v
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) June 27, 2015
“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.
Marijuana May Alleviate America’s Opioid Crisis. My view: Legalization & regulation can help but we must be careful. https://t.co/0X0a8ZjWYo
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) September 24, 2016
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.”
We shouldn’t kid ourselves – veterans use marijuana. We have an obligation to make it safe, regulate it, and protect the benefits of vets who would like to discuss it with their doctors. @mattgaetz and I intro’d legislation that would do all of the above. https://t.co/XctzfJq9gk
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) January 30, 2019
“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. We have an obligation to regulate it and make it as safe as possible.
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) January 4, 2018
“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.”
Seth Moulton asked about marijuana laws: "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. That's the sad reality of criminal justice in America today."
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) March 19, 2019
“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.
Pennsylvania Senators Will Consider DUI Protections For Medical Marijuana Patients At Hearing
A Pennsylvania Senate committee is set to take up a bill next week that would protect medical marijuana patients from being prosecuted under the state’s “zero tolerance” DUI laws.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R), would amend state statute to require proof of active impairment before a registered patient can be prosecuted for driving under the influence. The current lack of specific protections for the state’s roughly 368,000 patients puts them in legal jeopardy when on the road, supporters say.
The #PASenate Transportation Committee will hold a hearing on 9/21 with a focus on my #SB167, which would remove DUI penalties for legal medicinal cannabis use. @SenLangerholc @PASenateGOP Details ⤵️https://t.co/cSd2Cpdky9 pic.twitter.com/av3mxvAuCk
— Senator Bartolotta (@senbartolotta) September 16, 2021
Bartolotta first introduced an earlier version of the bill in June 2020. She said at the time that the state needs to “ensure that the legal use of this medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Months after the standalone reform legislation was introduced, the Pennsylvania House approved a separate amendment that would enact the policy change.
Pennsylvania legalized medical marijuana in 2016, with the first dispensaries in the state opening in 2018. But the state’s zero-tolerance DUI law still doesn’t reflect those changes. Because it criminalizes the presence of any THC or its metabolites in a driver’s blood—which can be detected for weeks after a person’s last use—the law puts virtually all medical marijuana patients at risk, even if it’s been days since their last use and they show no signs of impairment.
Bartolotta’s bill would require officers to prove a registered patient was actually impaired on the road.
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“Unimpaired patients currently face the risk of being arrested, prosecuted and convicted for using medicinal marijuana that has no bearing on their ability to drive a vehicle,” the senator wrote in a cosponsorship memo late last year. “Given the very serious consequences of a DUI conviction, my legislation will provide critical protections for medicinal cannabis patients by ensuring responsible use of their legal medicine does not give rise to a criminal conviction.”
Several legal cannabis states have enacted per se THC limits in blood, similar to blood alcohol requirements. However, evidence isn’t clear on the relationship between THC concentrations in blood and impairment.
A study published in 2019, for example, concluded that those who drive at the legal THC limit—which is typically between two to five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—were not statistically more likely to be involved in an accident compared to people who haven’t used marijuana.
Separately, the Congressional Research Service in 2019 determined that while “marijuana consumption can affect a person’s response times and motor performance… studies of the impact of marijuana consumption on a driver’s risk of being involved in a crash have produced conflicting results, with some studies finding little or no increased risk of a crash from marijuana usage.”
Outside of this bill, Pennsylvania lawmakers have continued to pursue adult-use legalization in the state. Earlier this year, two legislators circulated a memo to build support for a comprehensive reform bill they plan to introduce, for example.
A bipartisan Senate duo is also in the process of crafting legislation to legalize cannabis across the commonwealth. They announced some details of the proposal earlier this year, but the bill has yet to be formally introduced.
Outside the legislature, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said earlier this year that marijuana legalization was a priority as he negotiated the annual budget with lawmakers. However, his formal spending request didn’t contain legislative language to actually accomplish the cannabis policy change.
Wolf, who signed a medical cannabis expansion bill in June, has repeatedly called for legalization and pressured the Republican-controlled legislature to pursue the reform since coming out in favor of the policy in 2019. Shortly after he did that, a lawmaker filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana through a state-run model.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is running for U.S. Senate, previously led a listening tour across the state to solicit public input on legalization. He’s credited that effort with helping to move the governor toward embracing comprehensive reform. The lieutenant governor even festooned his Capitol office with marijuana-themed decor in contravention of a state law passed by the GOP-led legislature.
Fetterman has also been actively involved in encouraging the governor to exercise his clemency power for cannabis cases while the legislature moves to advance reform.
In May, Wolf pardoned a doctor who was arrested, prosecuted and jailed for growing marijuana that he used to provide relief for his dying wife. That marks his 96th pardon for people with cannabis convictions through the Expedited Review Program for Non-Violent Marijuana-Related Offenses that’s being run by the Board of Pardons.
Overall, legalization is popular among Pennsylvania voters, with 58 percent of residents saying they favor ending cannabis prohibition in a survey released in April.
Another poll released in May found that a majority of voters in the state also support decriminalizing all currently illicit drugs.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
80 Top Law Enforcement Officials, Including A Biden Nominee, Urge SCOTUS To Hear Safe Injection Drug Case
A coalition of 80 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement officials—including one who is President Joe Biden’s pick for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts—have filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to take up a case on the legality of establishing a safe injection facility where people can use illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment.
The nonprofit organization Safehouse was set to launch a safe consumption site in Philadelphia before being blocked by a legal challenge from the Trump administration, and it filed a petition with the nation’s highest court last month to hear the case. Now the group of law enforcement officials associated with Fair and Just Prosecution are calling on the Supreme Court to act in an amicus brief.
“Amici have an interest in this litigation because overdose prevention sites (OPSs) are among the harm reduction and public health interventions that have proven effective in preventing fatal overdoses and diverting people from unnecessary and counterproductive interactions with the justice system,” they wrote. “Amici, many of whom are currently or were previously responsible for enforcing the nation’s drug laws, also believe that the Controlled Substances Act cannot be construed to prohibit operation of a facility designed to address the most acute aspects of this public health emergency.”
“As law enforcement and criminal justice leaders, amici’s objective is to maintain public safety; saving lives and promoting health is as central to that mission as preventing and prosecuting crime.”
Read the full brief: https://t.co/e4Sv6oba4b
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
If the court agrees to hear the dispute, advocates will be looking toward the Biden Justice Department and whether it will continue the federal government’s opposition to allowing supervised injection facilities. It would be a precedent-setting case that could steer policy for years to come, meaning Safehouse is taking a significant risk by pursuing the appeal of its loss in a lower court before the majority of conservative justices.
“Failing to address the loss of life resulting from drug overdoses—and criminalizing a community-based public health organization working to save lives—will further erode trust in the justice system,” the new brief states. “If there were ever a time to demonstrate that our government values the dignity of human life, that time is now.”
While President Joe Biden hasn’t weighed in directly on safe consumption sites, there’s been a theme within his administration of embracing the general concept of harm reduction for drugs. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), for example, said that “promoting harm-reduction efforts” is a first-year priority. In an overview of its objectives, the office said it intends to expand “access to evidence-based treatment,” enhance “evidence-based harm reduction efforts” and promote “access to recovery support services.”
These goals theoretically align with those of Safehouse, which wants to give people with substance use disorders a facility where medical professionals can intervene in the event of an overdose and provide people with the resources to seek recovery.
Among the signatories on the amicus brief are a former deputy assistant attorney general under Obama, district attorneys of Baltimore, Cook County, Dallas County, Los Angeles County, Manhattan, Philadelphia, San Francisco County and Seattle and the former attorneys general of Ohio, Vermont and Virginia.
But one signatory who especially stands out is Rachael Rollins, the district attorney of Suffolk County, Massachusetts who is Biden’s nominee for U.S. attorney of Massachusetts.
“As an elected prosecutor, I have a responsibility to protect every member of my community, which requires moving away from criminal justice responses to substance use disorder,” Rollins said in a press release. “Instead, we must embrace proven public health strategies as potential solutions. Lives depend on it.”
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said the drug war “has taken too many lives already, and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll.” He added: “We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives and improve community safety.”
“Our nation’s failed war on drugs has taken too many lives…and criminalization has only exacerbated this devastating toll. We need a new way forward that allows communities to address the overdose crisis with harm reduction approaches proven to save lives." –@DA_LarryKrasner
— Fair and Just Prosecution (@fjp_org) September 17, 2021
Fair and Justice Prosecution, the group that coordinated the amicus brief, also organized a tour of Portugal for 20 top prosecutors in 2019 so they could learn about the successful implementation of the country’s drug decriminalization law.
Safehouse won a battle in a federal district court in 2019 to proceed with the facilities. But in January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that permitting such facilities would violate a 1980s-era federal statute that bars organizations from running operations “for the purpose of unlawfully… using controlled substances.” That law was passed while Biden served in the Senate and helped push punitive drug policies that have had lasting consequences.
“As current and former criminal justice leaders, amici have seen first-hand how the classic ‘war on drugs’ approach to drug control—with its almost exclusive focus on aggressive criminal law enforcement—has exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” the pro-reform prosecutors and cops wrote in the new brief. “This experience confirms that no jurisdiction can arrest its way out of this public health problem. Fatal overdoses are a symptom of substance use disorder, a medical condition requiring a medical response.”
“Distorting federal drug laws to prohibit an [overdose prevention site] or to prosecute its sponsors would further undermine trust in the justice system and faith in the fair and sensible application of our drug laws. Interpreting federal criminal law to bar empirically validated harm reduction measures would make no one safer; it would only impede cooperation between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
In its original petition to the Supreme Court in the current safe injection site case, Safehouse argued that the justices should “grant review to determine whether” federal statute really does prohibit “non-commercial, non-profit social service agencies…from establishing an overdose-prevention site that includes medically supervised consumption.”
“This question is a matter of life or death for thousands of Philadelphians and many thousands more throughout the country,” it said. “Tragically, while respondents have been pursuing this declaratory judgment against Safehouse, more than 3,200 people died in Philadelphia of drug overdoses—many of which could have been prevented if medical care had been immediately available through supervised consumption services.”
Safehouse also pointed out that Xavier Bacerra, the Biden administration’s secretary of health and human services, was among eight top state law enforcement officials who filed an earlier amicus brief in support of the organization’s safe injection site plan when he served as California’s attorney general.
The organization put the gravity of the case in no uncertain terms, painting a picture of how its proposed facility can save lives.
“When breathing stops, even a brief delay while waiting for medical help to arrive may result in an otherwise preventable overdose death or irreversible injury,” the petition says. “As a result, every second counts when responding to an opioid overdose; as more time elapses, the greater the risk of serious injury and death. Ensuring proximity to medical care and opioid reversal agents like the drug Naloxone at the time of consumption is therefore a critical component of efforts to prevent fatal opioid overdose.”
“Intervention by this Court is warranted to make clear that the federal law does not criminalize this essential public health and medical intervention designed to save lives from preventable overdose death,” it continues.
Safehouse argued that the appeals court’s interpretation of the law “eviscerates the intended boundaries of the statute and would criminalize the operation of legitimate businesses, charities, families, and good Samaritans that serve and reside with those suffering from addiction.”
If the Supreme Court were to take up the case and rule in favor of Safehouse, it could embolden advocates and lawmakers across the country to pursue the harm reduction policy.
The governor of Rhode Island signed a bill in July to establish a safe consumption site pilot program where people could test and use currently illicit drugs in a medically supervised environment. It became the first state in the country to legalize the harm reduction centers. It’s not clear whether the Department of Justice will seek to intervene to prevent the opening of such facilities in that state.
Massachusetts lawmakers advanced similar legislation last year, but it was not ultimately enacted.
A similar harm reduction bill in California, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wiener (D), was approved in the state Senate in April, but further action has been delayed until 2022.
At the same time that Safehouse is turning to the Supreme Court, it also announced recently that it will be returning the the federal district court that gave it an initial 2019 victory in support of establishing a safe injection facility before it was overturned in the appeals court.
The organization is making the unique argument that the federal government’s decision to block it from providing the service violates religious freedom by subjecting participants “to criminal penalties for exercising their sincerely held religious beliefs that they have an obligation to do everything possible to preserve life and to provide shelter and care to the vulnerable, including those suffering from addiction.”
In 2018, a congressional subcommittee approved legislation to specifically prohibit Washington D.C. from using local tax dollars to help open safe consumption facilities. But that provision was not enacted and has not been reintroduced since.
A 2020 study found that people “who reported using supervised injection facilities on an at least weekly basis had a reduced risk of dying compared to those who reported less than weekly or no use of this health service.”
Read the amicus brief from the prosecutors on the Safehouse safe injection site case below:
Photo courtesy of Jernej Furman.
Former GOP Congressman Who Actually Supported Marijuana Reform Enters The Cannabis Industry
Lately it’s come to seem as if most of the former politicians who’ve entered the marijuana industry were unhelpful or downright hostile to legalization when they were in office. But on Friday, a cannabis company announced an addition to its board who disrupts that narrative: a former Republican congressman who has a consistent legislative record of cosponsoring and voting for marijuana reform measures.
The multi-state cannabis businesses Red White & Bloom Brands Inc. (RWB) is bringing on former Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) to help it navigate the complicated regulatory space, drawing on his experience in Congress as the company works to expand.
Costello certainly isn’t the only Republican lawmaker who’s made the transition from Capitol Hill to the cannabis market. But he is a rare example of a politician who actually embraced enacting marijuana policy changes while he was in power before standing to profit from the industry. The congressman cosponsored a variety of bills—including ones to shield states that legalize cannabis from federal interference—and supported several reform amendments.
“I’m looking forward to utilizing my 15+ years of service in government, the legal profession, and my familiarity with cannabis policy to be a strategic resource for RWB as it positions itself as a true market leading house of brands in the permitted U.S. marketplace,” Costello said in a press release.
This breaks with a trend that has increasingly frustrated advocates, where it seems the people most inclined to benefit from legalization are those who stood in the way in Congress. The best-known example of that is former GOP House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), who’s faced criticism from activists over his anti-legalization record while in office before joining the board of marijuana company Acreage Holdings.
While Costello left Congress in 2019 prior to the historic House vote on a standalone bill to federally deschedule cannabis, there are plenty of examples of him supporting more modest reform proposals during his congressional tenure.
He was a cosponsor of legislation to protect state marijuana markets from federal intervention, promote cannabis research, support military veterans’ access to medical marijuana, protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses and legalize industrial hemp.
The congressman also voted in favor of floor amendments to shield all state marijuana programs from Justice Department intervention, allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend medical cannabis and end hemp prohibition.
In that respect, he was a rare GOP lawmaker. While the issue is increasingly bipartisan among the public, that hasn’t been reflected in Congress. And now Costello is in a position to leverage his legislative experience to advance a marijuana business’s interests.
It’s an exception to the trend.
For example, Tom Price, the former U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) head under President Donald Trump, is serving as a member of the board of directors for a medical marijuana business in Georgia after he refused to take action to reclassify cannabis under federal law when he had the power to do so. Price consistently voted against marijuana reform measures while serving in Congress.
Former Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN), who also has a long track record of opposing marijuana legalization efforts, joined a Canadian cannabis company’s board in 2019.
Earlier this month, a New York-based lobbying firm that’s headed by a former Republican U.S. senator announced that it is launching a practice focused on serving cannabis businesses. That former senator, Alfonse D’Amato, racked up a record of supporting the war on drugs while in office.
There is at least one other former GOP congressman who entered the cannabis space with a legislative record supporting marijuana reform. Former Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who championed cannabis reform while in Congress, became an advisory board member for a marijuana company after being voted out of office in 2018.
Separately, President Joe Biden’s pick to head up federal drug policy worked for a major marijuana business last year, according to his financial disclosure reports.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.