On April 4, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) announced that he is seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. The congressman supports marijuana legalization and has cosponsored a number of wide-ranging cannabis reform bills in recent years.
Ryan earned an “A” grade from NORML. Here’s a closer look at his record on the issue.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Since he started his tenure in Congress in 2003, Ryan has supported various marijuana and hemp-related amendments on the House floor, but most of his proactive bill cosponsorships have taken place more recently, in the 115th and 116th Congresses.
He cosponsored of the Marijuana Justice Act, a bold legislative proposal to federally deschedule cannabis and punish states that enforce marijuana in racially or socioeconomically disproportionate ways. He also backed a bipartisan bill that secures banking access for marijuana businesses. He cosponsored an earlier version of the bill in 2017 as well.
Additionally, the congressman put his name on legislation to shield legal cannabis states from federal intervention in the 116th and the 115th Congresses. This time around he was an original cosponsor.
But while he might not have as many cosponsorships on record as compared to some of his Democratic colleagues, Ryan has been consistent in his support for amendments protecting states that have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes. He voted in favor of measures protecting medical marijuana states from 2003 to 2015. He did the same for amendments covering adult-use and CBD-only states in 2015.
Ryan supported amendments to protect states that have legalized industrial hemp from in 2014 and 2015, and he also voted in favor of an amendment to secure banking access for marijuana businesses in 2014.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
Ryan hasn’t talked frequently about marijuana policy on social media—at least compared to some of the other 2020 Democratic candidates. His first tweets on the issue were shared shortly after the congressman signed on to the Marijuana Justice Act, sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).
1/ We have ignored the social and economic toll of our marijuana laws for too long. It is morally wrong, economically nonsensical, and an unnecessary strain on our already strained law enforcement officials. https://t.co/wrRvvQdaQT
— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) July 20, 2018
3/ I am proud to stand on the side of justice by cosponsoring legislation to begin righting the wrongs of decades of misinformed drug policy and make marijuana legal in all 50 states. #MarijuanaJustice
— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) July 20, 2018
After then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidance that laid out federal priorities for marijuana enforcement, Ryan wrote on Facebook that the move represented a “betrayal” by President Donald Trump, who pledged to let states set their own cannabis laws.
“During the campaign, President Donald J. Trump thought this issue should be left up to the states,” he wrote. “What changed?”
Some of Ryan’s most comprehensive comments on cannabis policy came from a 2018 op-ed he wrote for CNN. In the piece, the congressman outlined his evolution on the issue, explaining that while he’d been reluctant to embrace the policy position as co-chair of the House Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus, he’d witnessed the long-term, racially disproportionate harms of prohibition.
“But after meeting with countless Ohio families and youth whose lives have been irreparably harmed by a marijuana arrest, I find the social and economic injustices of our marijuana policy too big to ignore,” he wrote. “I firmly believe no person should be sentenced to a lifetime of hardship because of a marijuana arrest. It is morally wrong and economically nonsensical.”
In an interview with TIME, Ryan said the country is “wasting a lot of money we’re currently spending to put people in jail” and that legalization “would also give us more tax revenue to take care of the opioid addiction.”
Ryan toured an Ohio medical cannabis cultivation facility in January 2019 after the company was awarded the state’s first provisional license.
“This is just an amazing opportunity for us in Ohio to be leaders in the field of medical cannabis,” he said at a news conference. “I’m really excited to be here and excited about the job opportunities that are going to be created in the city of Akron.”
“Akron’s first medical marijuana harvest is a huge step for Ohio as it continues to roll out legal medical marijuana,” he added. “There are thousands of patients looking for relief, and this harvest will help in providing access to safe, quality medicine to those who need it.”
Ryan defended his support for legalization during a debate with his reelection opponent in 2018.
“I didn’t come to this lightly,” he said. “But if you have a dollar and you’re spending 50 cents on the drug that’s killing people and 50 cents on the drugs that aren’t killing anybody at all, to me it makes sense to spend the whole dollar on the people who are dying and trying to prevent it.”
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Ryan has not publicly commented about any personal experience with cannabis.
Marijuana Under A Ryan Presidency
While Ryan is not the lead sponsor of any marijuana legislation, he has increasingly stepped up his involvement with the issue over time to the point that he called for cannabis to be legal in all 50 states. Perhaps a more important indication of how he feels is the fact that whenever he has been required to vote on cannabis amendments on the House floor, he has consistently supported reform.
All of that indicates Ryan would probably not direct a crackdown on state-legal marijuana activities and, more likely, would support efforts to push bold reform like the Marijuana Justice Act. That said, his limited commentary on the issue to date indicates that it might not be a top priority for his administration.
Where Presidential Candidate Joe Sestak Stands On Marijuana
Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and three-star vice admiral in the Navy, announced on Sunday that he is launching a relatively late run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Though his record in Congress doesn’t offer many insights into where Sestak stands on marijuana policy, he took one vote in support of shielding state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, and his current campaign site proposes reforming federal laws to facilitate research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Sestak served in Congress from 2007 to 2011. In that time, he did not proactively sponsor or cosponsor any cannabis-related legislation.
The congressman was present for a vote on just one marijuana amendment attached to a spending bill—one to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from Justice Department intervention—and he voted in favor of the proposal, even though his state had not yet enacted its own medical marijuana law.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
It’s difficult to assess exactly where the candidate stands on marijuana in part because a scan for relevant terms on his social media posts turns up nil.
Adding to the confusion is the apparent lack of public comments about cannabis policy from Sestak—at least any comments that have been reported by media.
The Philadelphia Inquirer did publish an article in 2016 that described Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral, as a “longtime supporter of medical access [to marijuana]—especially for vets” but it did not quote the congressman directly. That piece also noted that his position on cannabis decriminalization is unclear.
Statements on his campaign site do provide a small window into his views on the drug war more broadly.
Sestak argued that President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be ineffective because “most illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, actually happens right under the noses of our border security agents” at legal ports of entry.
He also partially blamed “misguided US policies and the high demand for illegal drugs in the United States” for creating crises that leave many to flee their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.
“Our country, which sends hundreds of millions in foreign aid to these countries, must do a better job of holding Central American officials accountable for seeing that our funds are spent effectively—and that they do not become fuel for the fires of corruption and instability,” he said.
One of the most revealing positions on drug policy that Sestak has offered also comes from his campaign site: he said that he supports efforts to combat mental health conditions and addiction, and one part of that plan involves changing “federal law to allow doctors and scientists to expand research into the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to complement traditional substance abuse and other mental health treatment.”
“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he said.
Discussing veterans issues, Sestak said that the country “must learn from innovative approaches taken to reduce chronic veteran homelessness like Phoenix’s ‘housing first’ strategy in which homeless veterans are given housing before being required to prove sobriety or pass a drug test,” which also seems to indicate an openness to alternative approaches to drug policy.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
It does not appear that Sestak has publicly commented on any personal experience he’s had with marijuana.
Marijuana Under A Sestak Presidency
Though some reports indicate that Sestak supports medical cannabis reform, and he took one step to protect states that have implemented such programs during his time in Congress, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the candidate’s position on marijuana.
At the very least, his willingness to vote in favor of medical cannabis protections ahead of his state enacting a medical marijuana law should give patients in legal states some sense of comfort, although his limited record on the issue raises questions about whether he’d be willing to extend those protections to adult-use states—and whether cannabis reform would be a priority of his administration at all.
That said, the fact that he included a position on psychedelics reform on his campaign website signals that he’s cognizant of the issue and that his views on broader drug policy reform may have simply flown under the radar.
Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), who has at times expressed serious concerns about marijuana policy reform, announced that he will allow a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis to go into effect.
Ige didn’t include the decrim proposal in a list of legislation he intends to veto by Monday’s deadline.
Lawmakers sent the bill, which punishes possession of three grams of marijuana with a $130 fine instead of jail time, to the governor’s desk in April. As originally introduced, it covered greater amounts of marijuana in line with decriminalization policies in other states, but was watered down as it advanced through the legislative process.
Under current law, possessing cannabis is a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.
In a press conference to discuss his veto list, Ige called the marijuana legislation “a very tough call” and said went “go back and forth” on the issue before deciding to let the bill take effect.
The governor said he would have preferred if the decriminalization proposal included provisions aimed at “young people who we would want to get into substance abuse or other kinds of programs to help them deal with drug use.”
In the end, he said, he decided “it would be best not to veto that.”
Watch Ige discuss his decision not to veto marijuana decriminalization, about 23:35 into the video below:
Some legislative leaders have expressed interest in considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana.
Asked by a reporter about the possibility of broader cannabis reforms in Hawaii, Ige said that the state “can benefit from not being at the head of the table.”
“We continue to learn from other states about the problems that they see with recreational marijuana,” he said, echoing concerns he has about legalization and noting that he’s been discussing the possible reform with governors from some western states that have already enacted it. “We would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems it has raised.”
Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, told Marijuana Moment that Ige should be “commended” for not vetoing the bill.
“It’s also encouraging that he’s having ongoing conversations with other governors from states that have legalized adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Hawai’i can indeed learn a great deal from other states, including the enactment of social equity measures to ensure broad local participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and those harmed by the drug war.”
Also on Monday, Ige announced that he intends to veto a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to transport their medicine between islands.
“Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government,” he wrote. “This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”
Another proposal on the governor’s veto list would establish a hemp licensing program.
“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” he reasoned.
Finally, Ige plans to veto a bill to scale back the use of asset forfeiture, which is often used against people accused of drug crimes, with the governor calling the practice “an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment.”
USDA Sets Target Deadline To Release Hemp Regulations
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered new insights into its rulemaking process for hemp regulations in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.
Of particular note is the deadline by which USDA is aiming to release its interim final rule for the newly legal crop: August. Previously, the department simply said it would have the rules in place in time for the 2020 planting season.
“This action will initiate a new part 990 establishing rules and regulations for the domestic production of hemp,” the new notice states. “This action is required to implement provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).”
The hemp update update is part of a larger regulatory agenda for various agencies that’s being released by the Trump administration.
“It is great to see that USDA is on track to complete federal hemp farming regulations this year,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment.
A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the August projection is the department’s “best estimate” for when the regulations will be released. It remains USDA’s intention “to have the regulations in place by this fall to allow for a 2020 planting season.”
“However, the clearance process will dictate the actual timing of the publication,” the spokesperson said.
While USDA officials have said the department didn’t plan to expedite the regulatory process despite strong interest among stakeholders, it seems to be making steady progress so far. The department said in March that it has “begun the process to gather information for rulemaking.”
USDA has also outlined the basic elements that will be required when states or tribes are eventually able to submit regulatory plans for federal approval. Those proposals will have to include information about the land that will be used to cultivate hemp, testing standards, disposal procedures, law enforcement compliance, annual inspections and certification for products and personnel.
The new update comes about six months after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But until USDA releases its guidelines, hemp farmers must adhere to the earlier rules established under a narrower research-focused provision of the 2014 version of the agriculture legislation.
While the rules are yet to be published and there are therefore some restrictions on what hemp farmers can lawfully do, USDA has clarified several policies that have already gone into effect in recent months.
The department is accepting intellectual property applications for hemp products, for example. It also explained that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported from other countries and that the crop can be transported across state lines since it’s been federally descheduled.