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.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.