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Where Presidential Candidate Elizabeth Warren Stands On Marijuana

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced on February 9, 2019 that she’s running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

While Warren is widely known as an advocate for consumer protections and Wall Street regulation, she’s also developed a reputation as a champion for modernizing marijuana laws. As such, she has an A grade from NORML.

That wasn’t always the case, as the senator was previously somewhat dismissive of cannabis reform attitudes, and declined to endorse her home state of Massachusetts’s legalization ballot measure ahead of Election Day 2016—but her position quickly evolved as public opinion on the issue shifted demonstrably in favor of reform, particularly among Democratic primary voters.

This piece was last updated on August 8, 2019 to include the candidate’s statements and policy actions on marijuana since joining the race. It will continue to be updated on a rolling basis.

Legislation And Policy Actions

Warren is the lead sponsor of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which she filed in partnership with Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) in April 2019 as well as an earlier version in June 2018. The legislation would amend the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) to exempt state-legal marijuana activity from federal interference and is also aimed at addresses banking access issues for the cannabis industry.

The senator has co-sponsored several other major pieces of cannabis reform legislation. That includes two wide-ranging bills from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ): the CARERS Act, which was designed to protect medical marijuana patients from federal enforcement efforts and stimulate research into the plant, and the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove marijuana from the CSA and direct federal courts to expunge the criminal records of those previously convicted of a cannabis-related offense. The latter bill also goes beyond the regular “states’ rights” mantra long expressed by reformers on Capitol Hill by actually withholding funding from states that maintain discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws.

A more recent bill from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) that would deschedule cannabis and reinvest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition also received her cosponsorship.

Warren also signed onto a marijuana descheduling bill introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) this Congress and last.

During the 115th Congress, she cosponsored legislation to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct research into the therapeutic potential of cannabis for veterans. This year, Warren signed onto stronger legislation that would require VA to study medical cannabis.

Additionally, she co-sponsored three bills aimed at providing banking access to marijuana businesses: the SAFE Banking Act in 2017 and 2019 and the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act in 2015.

Warren has not had the opportunity to vote on any marijuana bills or amendments during her time in the Senate.

In March 2017, Warren signed a letter expressing concern about remarks from then-White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who hinted at a federal crackdown on legal cannabis states. The letter encouraged the Justice Department to allow states to operate legal cannabis systems without fear of federal intervention.

In November 2017, the senator wrote a letter to Trump’s then-nominee to head up the Department of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar. In the letter, she said the administration should consider legalizing cannabis as a means to combat the opioid epidemic, citing research indicating the legal states experience lower rates of opioid overdoses compared to non-legal states.

And in January 2018, she sent a letter with a bipartisan coalition co-signers imploring Trump to direct former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reinstate the Cole memo, an Obama-era document providing guidance on federal marijuana enforcement. Doing so would “create a pathway to more comprehensive marijuana policy that respects state interests and prerogatives,” the lawmakers wrote.

On The Campaign Trail

At a campaign stop in Iowa in March, Warren said that “it’s just time to legalize [marijuana] nationally.”

After President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was sentenced to 47 months in prison for bank and tax fraud, Warren compared it to a case of a homeless man receiving a life sentence over $20 worth of cannabis.

“The words above the Supreme Court say ‘Equal Justice Under Law’—when will we start acting like it?” she wrote.

Warren touted endorsements for her STATES Act from the governors of Massachusetts, California and other states, writing that her legislation is “long overdue.”

“Our federal marijuana laws perpetuate our broken criminal justice system, impede research, restrict veterans’ access & hinder economic development,” Warren said. “Marijuana should be legalized, & I’ll work with anyone – GOP, Dem, Independent, Libertarian, vegetarian – to push for these reforms.”

Warren discussed racial disparities in marijuana law enforcement at a CNN town hall event in April and took a question from a voter who challenged her on the fact that she hasn’t always supported cannabis reform.

“I supported Massachusetts changing its laws on marijuana,” she said, setting aside the fact that she did not actually endorse several cannabis measures her state’s voters approved over the years. “Massachusetts had decriminalized at that point and I thought it made a lot more sense for Massachusetts to go ahead and legalize marijuana, and I now support the legalization of marijuana.”

In May, the senator contributed an essay for a publication on criminal justice issues that touches on broader reforms she wants to enact.

“We should legalize marijuana and wipe clean the records of those who have been unjustly jailed for minor marijuana crimes; end private prisons and the profit incentives that pervert the goal of our justice system; provide more help for people struggling with domestic abuse, substance use disorders, and mental illness; and end the practice of branding the formerly incarcerated with a scarlet letter that closes doors to education, employment, and opportunity,” she wrote.

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Warren has tweeted her views on marijuana policy on numerous occasions, and her office has released several statements and press releases about the issue.

“Outdated federal marijuana laws have perpetuated our broken criminal justice system, created barriers to research, and hindered economic development,” Warren said in a press release when filing the STATES Act. “States like Massachusetts have put a lot of work into implementing common sense marijuana regulations – and they have the right to enforce their own marijuana policies. The federal government needs to get out of the business of outlawing marijuana.”

“Forcing legitimate marijuana businesses to operate a cash-only business is dangerous,” she said in a press release about cannabis banking legislation. “It creates unnecessary public safety issues for communities and business owners. The SAFE Banking Act is a common sense bill that would advance state efforts to regulate the sale of marijuana and support businesses working to establish reliable business operations.”

“Another option to tackle the opioid crisis is to invest in more research on alternative pain therapies, including physical therapy and new drugs that don’t have abuse potential,” Warren said during a 2016 hearing of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “Medical marijuana might also be a viable alternative, but the truth is we just don’t know,” she said, noting the barriers to research that exist due to federal prohibition.

“The best studies suggest that African Americans and whites use marijuana at the same rates, but African Americans are twice as likely to be arrested for [it] than whites,” she said during a campaign appearance in New Hampshire. How about we legalize marijuana and get rid of all those cases?”

In another campaign stop Warren said she “voted in favor of legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts” and that she believes “we should legalize it nationally.”

Warren’s 2018 Senate reelection website included a marijuana petition as a list-building tactic.

“Our current marijuana policies are unjust and they don’t make sense. That’s why I’m fighting for reform,” it says. “Add your name to join the fight.”

Her current presidential campaign website highlights her work on marijuana in a few places.

One page meant to push back against the idea that she is “too partisan to get things done” touts her “bipartisan bill to end the federal ban on marijuana – allowing states, territories, and tribes to set their own policies on legalization, decriminalization, and medical marijuana.”

“There’s a lot more to do to reform our marijuana laws, but letting states make their own choices would be a powerfully important start – and it’s something Democrats and Republicans agree on,” the site says.

Another page addressing issues related to her heritage and criticisms of how she has framed it cites Warren’s legislation as a way to “ensure that our country’s cannabis policies don’t leave Indian Country behind.”

“For many Native tribes, cannabis represents an important opportunity for economic development, and for some it has cultural or medicinal importance,” the site says. “Elizabeth introduced the STATES Act with Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner to safeguard the ability of states, territories, and tribes to decide how to enforce their own marijuana policies. The STATES Act – and especially its important tribal provisions – has received strong support from Indian Country.”

Another page says that “it’s not equal justice when a kid with an ounce of pot can get thrown in jail while a bank executive who launders money for a drug cartel can get a bonus.”

“We need criminal justice reform and we need it now,” the site says. “That means ending racial disparities in our justice system. It means banning private prisons. It means embracing community policing and demilitarizing our local police forces. It means comprehensive sentencing reform and rewriting our laws to decriminalize marijuana.”

The senator hasn’t always been receptive to broad reform:

In 2003, Warren suggested that the profits in tax revenue from legal marijuana could be outweighed by the consequences, writing in a book that “drug addiction, health problems, traffic accidents, and so forth” represent the “downside of marijuana.”

The candidate tried to use the pro-legalization stance of former Massachusetts Rep. Dan Winslow (R) against him as he sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2013. She said, “I advise everyone to pay very close attention to Dan Winslow’s platform. He has a 100 percent ranking from the gun lobby and he’s for the legalization of marijuana. He wants us armed and stoned.”

She also angered some cannabis reform advocates by staying on the sidelines of Massachusetts’s 2016 legalization ballot campaign, coming only so close as to say she “would be open to the possibility of legalizing marijuana in Massachusetts” prior to Election Day.

But that didn’t stop her from later falsely stating that she actually endorsed the measure.

“Yes, I did,” she said earlier this year. “Oh, I did.”

While the senator later clarified that she voted in favor of the measure in the privacy of the voting booth, that explanation fell far short of what Bay State advocates were hoping to see from their progressive senator.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Warren said in a 2018 interview that she has never smoked marijuana.

Marijuana Under A Warren Presidency

Warren’s evolution on cannabis issues over the past two years has transformed her into one of Congress’s leading advocates for ending federal prohibition, a stance she would be expected to take with her into the Oval Office if she’s elected.

High-Ranking House Democrat Calls On Congress To Decriminalize Marijuana As ‘Next Step’

Photo elements courtesy of Pixabay and NorthEndWaterFront.com.

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

GOP Senator Says He Tried CBD And Jokes About Its Hair Regrowth Potential

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Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) said on Wednesday that he’s tried using CBD to relieve knee pain, but it didn’t work for him. He joked about the compound’s potential to promote hair growth.

During a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation hearing for Stephen Hahn, the nominee to become Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, the senator shared the personal anecdote while making a broader point about the need for research into the cannabis ingredient.

“I have a personal interest in this,” Roberts said. “I don’t know why I’m bringing this up, but I have football knees. My wife insists that this little bottle of CBD stuff that you can put that on your knees and it’s going to work. It doesn’t. Well, at least for me it doesn’t.”

“But this is being used for everything. I was gonna mention [Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)], myself and then you, sir, about the possibility of growth of hair,” he said, observing that both senators and the FDA nominee all lack full heads of hair. “This is ridiculous.”

Watch Roberts’s CBD remark at around 1:54:00 into the video below: 

The exchange ended on a more serious note, with Roberts emphasizing that hemp farmers are eager for FDA to develop a regulatory framework for CBD products, but that the compound must also be carefully studied.

“I think you’ve described very well the balance that’s needed here,” Hahn replied. “As you know from manufacturer surveys, a significant proportion of Americans are using these products, and a significant proportion of Americans who are using the products think that they’re already judged to be safe and effective by FDA when they’re not.”

“I think there are unanswered questions that need to be filled in by data and science and research,” the nominee said, adding that there are signs that CBD “can be an effective medical product and I think we have to have a clear and transparent framework for assessing them, certainly on the medical product side.”

Hahn also recognized the therapeutic potential of CBD while taking questions from Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), who noted that the compound is known to treat childhood seizure disorders but pointed out scientists continue to struggle accessing cannabis for research purposes to explore its impact on other conditions. The senator asked what can be done to streamline research into Schedule I substances such as marijuana.

“The top-line answer to that is clarity and transparency about what the rules of the road are,” the nominee said. “It’s really important for all innovators as they try to bring new medical products to patients across America.”

“The issue of CBD, which you described, in fact it is an active ingredient in this drug that was approved for a very serious childhood seizure disorder,” he said, referring to the prescription medication Epidiolex. “I think that tells us that there is a pathway for medical products. There are also some indications—cancer, palliative care setting—where CBD might be of benefit, but there are some open and unanswered questions that have to be filled with research.”

Hahn said that research should address what kind of dosages of CBD are best for different conditions and what the implications of long-term use are. He also expressed concern about companies making unsubstantiated claims about what their CBD products can treat. (The exchange with Rosen can be seen in the video above, starting at around 1:39:30.)

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb also repeatedly stressed that the agency would take action against CBD companies that make especially outlandish medical claims about their products. However, while Gottlieb was often dismissive of the therapeutic potential of these products—suggesting that pets who benefitted from them were simply high from THC, for example—Hahn appears more open-minded about what the compound has to offer.

Air Force Issues Notice Banning CBD Use Regardless Of Legal Status

Photo courtesy of Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

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Air Force Issues Notice Banning CBD Use Regardless Of Legal Status

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The U.S. Air Force published a notice on Tuesday emphasizing that service members are not allowed to use CBD products, even though the non-intoxicating compound is federally legal when it’s derived from hemp.

While the military branch recognized that CBD is widely available in everything from teas to lotions to pet supplements, it said the current lack of regulation by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) poses a risk to members because they could inadvertently consume a product that contains excessive amounts of THC that could show up on a drug test.

“It’s important for both uniformed and civilian Airmen to understand the risk these products pose to their careers,” Maj. Jason Gammons, Air Force Office of The Judge Advocate General spokesperson, said. “Products containing unregulated levels of THC can cause positive drug tests, resulting in the same disciplinary actions as if members had consumed marijuana.”

“The important point for Airmen to consider is the level of uncertainty for these products,” he said. “We want to ensure we arm them with the facts so they can make informed decisions and not inadvertently jeopardize their military careers.”

This isn’t the first time the Air Force has weighed in on cannabis. Last year, the branch issued an advisory cautioning against the use of marijuana products regardless of state law.

“Your friend’s grandma’s miracle sticky buns might look mighty tasty and get rave reviews at the big shindig, but if you’re in the military or work for the federal government you might want to think twice and make sure they weren’t made to treat her bad hip first before you jeopardize your career,” the military branch wrote at the time.

But in the months since the president signed the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, a wave of agencies have posted notices clarifying the rules around CBD consumption.

NASA similarly warned that CBD products could contain unauthorized THC concentrations that could cost employees their jobs if they fail a drug test. Both the Department of Defense and Navy reminded their rank that they’re barred from using CBD no matter its legality. The Coast Guard said in July that sailors can’t use marijuana or visit state-legal dispensaries.

At first, it wasn’t clear if the federal updates on cannabis policy for workers were being coordinated. But it was later reported that the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) issued guidance to federal agency drug program coordinators in July that outlined concerns about THC turning up in CBD products, which seems to have prompted the various departments to clarify their rules.

“Products containing THC, even pet products, may qualify as possession of a controlled substance,” the new Air Force notice says. “Possession of a controlled substance is regulated under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, federal law and state laws.”

It’s not clear if the federal guidance will be updated after FDA finalizes regulations for CBD products, which it is actively working on. FDA has been under pressure to expedite the rulemaking process, but former Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said that it may take years to develop regulations without congressional action.

Lawmakers And Advocates React To Historic Passage Of Bill To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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Lawmakers And Advocates React To Historic Passage Of Bill To End Federal Marijuana Prohibition

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Drug policy reform advocates and lawmakers celebrated on Wednesday after a key congressional committee approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition for the first time in history.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-10, including two “aye” votes from Republican lawmakers, to advance the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act. Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) is the bill’s sponsor.

The legislation would federally deschedule cannabis, provide expungement and resentencing relief and impose a five percent federal tax on marijuana sales to support investments in communities most harmed by the drug war. It would also protect immigrants from being denied citizenship over cannabis and prevent federal agencies from denying public benefits or security clearance due to its use.

Here’s how people are reacting to the bill’s historic passage. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD):

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY):

“I have long believed that the criminalization of marijuana has been a mistake, and the racially disparate enforcement of marijuana laws has only compounded this mistake,” Nadler said in a statement. “While states have led the way in reform, our federal laws have not kept pace with the obvious need for change. With the passage of the MORE Act today, the Judiciary Committee has taken long overdue steps to address the devastating injustices caused by the War on Drugs and to finally decriminalize marijuana at the federal level.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA):

“As more states legalize marijuana, millions of Americans with marijuana-related convictions continue to face overwhelming barriers to jobs, education, and housing,” Kamala Harris said in a statement. “That is why we must act to remove the burden of marijuana convictions and make sure these individuals have the support needed to move forward. It is also critical that everyone — especially people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs — has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry. This is a matter of racial and economic justice. I am grateful for Chairman Nadler’s partnership on this issue and for his leadership in moving this legislation forward. I look forward to the House of Representatives passing our legislation soon.”

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ):

“After years of work in the Senate, our efforts to pair marijuana legalization with expungement and reinvestment in the communities most harmed by the War on Drugs have finally led us to today’s critical mark-up,” Booker said in a statement. “The war on drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, harmed job prospects and access to housing for our nation’s most vulnerable communities, and destroyed countless lives.”

“The House Judiciary Committee’s decision to advance this bill is a significant step toward righting these wrongs and healing the wounds of decades of injustice,” he said.

“This is a significant tipping point. The Committee passage of this bill is an important step towards reversing decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income individuals. These draconian laws have sacrificed critical resources, violated our values, destroyed families and communities, and failed to make us safer,” Booker added in a separate press release. “This legislation continues us down the path towards justice and I’m excited to see momentum growing around the movement to fix our nation’s broken drug laws.”

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA):

“This is really a defining moment on so many fronts as it relates to cannabis reform,” Lee told Marijuana Moment in an interview prior to the vote. “I have to salute and thank Chairman Nadler for being bold and for living up to his commitment and for making sure that this is a comprehensive bill that will address the different aspects of these very complicated issues.”

“For those who have been victimized by these unjust laws, I want to just say to them that we have to keep optimistic, keep hope alive and just know that their members of Congress worked to make sure that justice is served.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR):

Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO):

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI):

Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA):

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN):

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA):

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA):

Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA):

Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME):

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI):

NORML Political Director Justin Strekal:

“The passage of the MORE Act represents the first time that the Judiciary Committee has ever had a successful vote to end the cruel policy of marijuana criminalization,” Strekal said. “Not only does the bill reverse the failed prohibition of cannabis, but it provides pathways for opportunity and ownership in the emerging industry for those who have suffered most.”

“In 2018 alone, over 663,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana-related crimes, a three-year high,” he said. “Now that Chairman Nadler has moved the MORE Act through committee, it is time for the full House to vote and have every member of Congress show their constituents which side of history they stand on.”

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri:

“This is a truly historic moment in our nation’s political history,” Altieri said. “For the first time, a Congressional committee has approved far-reaching legislation to not just put an end to federal marijuana prohibition, but to address the countless harms our prohibitionist policies have wrought, notable on communities of color and other marginalized groups.”

“Opposition to our failed war on marijuana has reached a boiling point with over two-thirds of all Americans, including majorities of all political persuasions, now supporting legalization,” he said. “Congress should respect the will of the people and promptly approve the MORE Act and close this dark chapter of failed public policy.”

Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno:

“With today’s mark-up of the MORE Act, the United States is coming one step closer to ending the devastating harms of marijuana prohibition, which have fallen so heavily on Black and Brown people,” Sánchez-Moreno said.

“This legislation won’t make up for the full scale of harm that prohibition has caused to its victims. It’s not going to return anyone their lost dreams, time lost at the mercy of the criminal justice system; or the years spent away from their families,” she said. “But this legislation is the closest we’ve come yet to not only ending those harms at the federal level, but also beginning to repair them. Now it’s up to Congress to do the right thing and swiftly pass the bill to ensure justice is not delayed a moment longer.”

Cannabis Trade Federation CEO Neal Levine:

“This committee vote is a historic step forward for cannabis policy reform at the federal level,” Levine said. The MORE Act would ensure cannabis consumers and businesses are treated fairly under the law. It would also bolster state and industry efforts to promote diversity within the cannabis business community, while helping communities and individuals adversely impacted by the war on drugs.”

“A solid majority of Americans support ending cannabis prohibition, and we’re finally seeing that reflected in a vote on Capitol Hill. These votes demonstrate the broad bipartisan support that exists in Congress for allowing states to determine their own cannabis policies,” he said. “There appears to be a consensus among both parties that the conflict between state and federal cannabis laws is untenable and needs to be resolved. We encourage our allies in the Democratic and Republican parties come together to find a bipartisan path forward and pass a law this Congress.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association:

“Today’s vote marks a turning point for federal cannabis policy, and is truly a sign that prohibition’s days are numbered,” Smith said. “Thanks to the diligent efforts of advocates and lawmakers from across the political spectrum, we’ve seen more progress in this Congress than ever before.”

“Supermajority public support for legalization, increasing recognition of the devastating impacts of prohibition on marginalized communities and people of color, and the undeniable success of state cannabis programs throughout the country are all helping to build momentum for comprehensive change in the foreseeable future,” he said.

Americans for Safe Access Interim Director Debbie Churgai:

“This groundbreaking legislation would eliminate barriers to cannabis research and provide access for patients throughout the entire country,” Churgai said. “It is time our federal government steps up to provide relief so that patients everywhere can medicate without fear of losing any of their civil rights and protections, including while in federal housing or healthcare settings, such as hospices.”

Maritza Perez, senior policy analyst for Criminal Justice Reform at the Center for American Progress:

“We commend Chairman Nadler, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), and the House Judiciary Committee for voting the MORE Act out of committee today,” Perez said. “Along with the Marijuana Justice Coalition, CAP has called on Congress to enact marijuana legalization legislation centered on justice reform and equity. We are proud of the milestone reached today and ask that this bill now move swiftly to the House floor for a vote.”

Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights President Vanita Gupta:

Prohibitionist organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana:

Marijuana Legalization Bill Approved By Congressional Committee In Historic Vote

Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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