Connect with us

Politics

Where Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris Stands On Marijuana

Published

on

Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his vice presidential running mate, the campaign announced on Tuesday.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s choice to join him on the ticket has evolved significantly on marijuana policy over her career. Though she coauthored an official voter guide argument opposing a California cannabis legalization measure as a prosecutor in 2010 and laughed in the face of a reporter who asked her about the issue in 2014, she went on to sponsor legislation to federally deschedule marijuana in 2019.

It remains to be seen whether she will push Biden in the same direction, as the former vice president has maintained opposition to ending marijuana prohibition despite supermajority support among Democrats.

While Harris, a former attorney general of California, made marijuana reform a major component of her criminal justice platform when she unsuccessfully ran in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, she’s been less vocal about the issue since dropping out in December 2019.

Convincing Biden to come around seems like a steep task in any case. Some advocates suspect that the Democratic National Committee’s platform committee voted against an amendment to add legalization as a 2020 party plank specifically because it’s at odds with the presumptive nominee’s agenda. Biden has drawn the line at decriminalizing marijuana possession, expunging past convictions, modest federal rescheduling, medical cannabis legalization and letting states set their own policies.

But it remains the case that Harris is the chief Senate sponsor of the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act—a comprehensive piece of legalization legislation that includes various social equity and restorative justice provisions. Advocates will be watching to see if she continues to advocate for the reform move as she’s on-boarded to the Biden campaign.

The senator indicated in July that she doesn’t plan to push the presumptive presidential nominee on the issue.

Here’s a deeper look at where Harris stands on marijuana.

This piece was last updated on November 2, 2020 to include the candidate’s most recent statements and policy actions on marijuana.

Legislation And Policy Actions

As noted, Harris’s most notable contribution with respect to cannabis reform legislation is her sponsorship of the MORE Act.

“Times have changed—marijuana should not be a crime,” she said when introducing the bill. “We need to start regulating marijuana, and expunge marijuana convictions from the records of millions of Americans so they can get on with their lives.

The senator first came out in support of legalization in 2018, adding her name to a different far-reaching bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). The legislation, the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and also penalize states where marijuana laws are enforced disproportionately against people of color. She also cosponsored the 2019 version of the bill.

“Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal,” she said in a press release. “Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor and I know it as a senator.”

Beyond the MORE Act and Marijuana Justice Act, Harris has also co-sponsored the SAFE Banking Act, which would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses from federal punishment.

The senator sponsored bills aimed at repairing land in California that’s been impacted by illicit cannabis grows and another piece of legislation that would protect people with drug convictions from losing public housing.

Harris also signed a letter alongside Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) that called on the Justice Department to stop blocking federal research into medical cannabis. In a separate sign-on letter, she joined her colleagues in requesting that lawmakers include protections for legal cannabis states in a spending bill.

It is also worth noting that Harris touted her office’s drug enforcement actions on her website while running for reelection as San Francisco district attorney. One page said she “closed legal loopholes that were allowing drug dealers to escape prosecution,” and another bragged she “increased convictions of drug dealers from 56% in 2003 to 74% in 2006.”

Most Recent Comments And Actions

Harris stressed in August that there will be a “policy that is going to be about decriminalizing marijuana” in a Biden administration.

She also said the following month that the administration won’t be “half-steppin’” with “incrementalism” as far as criminal justice reform is concerned. That said, the senator stopped short of pledging marijuana legalization, saying they would only decriminalize cannabis and expunge prior records.

The senator has made a habit of raising the decriminalization and expungements pledge since joining the ticket with Biden.

In September 2020, she again made the pledge to enact that reform if the pair are elected.

At a vice presidential debate with Mike Pence, she made the same promise—though she seemed uneasy when she was attacked over her own drug enforcement record as a prosecutor.

Harris said in October 2020 that the administration would have “a commitment to decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses.”

She similarly said that she has a “deal” with Biden to candidly share feedback on policy issues where they disagree, including on cannabis legalization.

At campaign events in Texas and Nevada, Harris reaffirmed that decriminalization would be a priority if the Democratic ticket is elected. She made the same comments in a recent interview, adding that the pair will be “making sure no one is put behind bars just because they’ve used drugs.”

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in June, Harris discussed how a black man incarcerated over a marijuana offense died after contracting coronavirus. She stated that the case illustrated how “we have two systems of justice in America” based on race.

She and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) made a similar point in a letter to Attorney General William Barr that month.

Harris and two other senators wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in June, criticizing Republicans in the chamber for putting forth a policing reform bill that they argue is inadequate, in part because it does not ban no-knock raids in drug cases as House Democrats did in that chamber’s legislation.

The senator and 43 other members of Congress urged the Justice Department to investigate the death of 26-year-old black woman Breonna Taylor in a botched drug raid.

In September, Harris cited racial disparities in marijuana enforcement as an example of how there are effectively two separate systems of justice in the country for people of color and white people.

In April, she signed onto a letter to Senate leadership, imploring them to include language in coronavirus relief legislation that would allow marijuana businesses to access federal relief dollars just as companies in other industries can.

“Marijuana small businesses employ more than 240,000 workers and should be allowed to access coronavirus relief funds too,” she tweeted. “My colleagues and I are pushing to ensure they’re not left out of Congress’s next relief package.”

Also that month, Harris and 10 other senators sent a letter to leadership in a key committee asking that they add a provision allowing cannabis businesses to access federal loan services in spending legislation.

When the governor of Illinois issued pardons for more than 11,000 people with cannabis convictions the day before legal sales started, the senator said she applauded the decision.

“Expunging non-violent marijuana-related offenses is the right thing to do,” she said. “Now let’s legalize marijuana at the federal level.”

Harris joined a group of senators in December 2019 in pressing top federal drug and health agencies to provide an update on the status of efforts to increase the number of authorized marijuana manufacturers for research purposes.

Also that month, she and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers sent a letter to the Justice Department, requesting a policy change allowing researchers to access marijuana from state-legal dispensaries to improve studies on the plant’s benefits and risks.

On the unofficial marijuana holiday 4/20, Harris tweeted that the Senate “must pass my Marijuana Opportunity Act to legalize marijuana at the federal level and expunge non-violent marijuana-related offenses from the records of the millions who’ve been arrested or incarcerated. Too many lives have been ruined by these regressive policies.”

Using loaded war on drugs rhetoric, she called President Trump a “drug pusher” for promoting the use of hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19.

On The Presidential Campaign Trail

During her own presidential run, Harris released a criminal justice plan that says “it is past time to end the failed war on drugs, and it begins with legalizing marijuana.”

“It’s time to end mass incarceration,” she tweeted the same day. “This includes legalizing marijuana, sentencing reforms, and abolishing private prisons. With the addition of job training and education, these actions will reduce crime and help build healthy communities.”

After House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced a markup of the MORE Act in November, Harris wrote that the “War on Drugs was an abject failure” and that it’s “time to legalize marijuana and bring justice to people of color harmed by failed drug policies.”

“Grateful for [Nadler’s] partnership on this issue,” she said. “I look forward to getting our bill one step closer to becoming law.”

After the committee approved the legislation, Harris wrote, “Not only do we need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, but we have to do it right and bring justice to communities of color” and said the MORE Act would accomplish that.

“Last week, my bill to legalize marijuana passed through House committee with bipartisan support,” she said. “I’ll say it again: we can’t legalize marijuana without addressing the injustices to people of color caused by the War on Drugs. My bill would do just that.”

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), another presidential candidate, criticized Harris’s prosecutorial record during a Democratic debate in August. In a follow-up interview, the senator evaded a question about the exchange, dismissing the critique by stating that “I’m obviously a top tier candidate and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits tonight because there are a lot of people that are trying to make the stage for the next debate.”

The Bay Area News Group analyzed the marijuana prosecution record of Harris and said the findings demonstrate that her history “is more nuanced than those debate-stage confrontations indicate.”

Days after former Vice President Joe Biden, another presidential candidate, said he doesn’t support adult-use legalization because marijuana could be a gateway to more dangerous drugs, Harris tweeted “marijuana isn’t a gateway drug and should be legalized.”

The candidate said that cannabis legalization is an example of an issue she’s changed her mind on over time during an interview with NowThis.

“The whole war on drugs was a complete failure,” she said during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. “That approach is the gateway to America’s problem with mass incarceration.” She didn’t directly answer a question about what made her change her mind about cannabis reform from prior opposition to legalization, however.

“The criminalization of marijuana has been such a big part of what has fueled America’s system of mass incarceration,” she said.

“There are thousands of people labeled felons for life for selling marijuana, while people out there are making a fortune from the marijuana industry,” the senator said. “This is an injustice, and as president, I’ll fix it.”

Prior to a House vote on legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses, Harris joined Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and fellow presidential contenders Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in expressing concern about approving cannabis bills that would largely benefit the industry without first passing comprehensive legalization legislation.

“We shouldn’t do this without addressing the reality that people of color are being shut out of the legal marijuana industry,” she said of the banking bill. “That means not only legalizing marijuana but also expunging criminal records and providing a path for people of color to enter the industry.”

Following the vote in favor of the legislation, Harris tweeted that the reform is “important, but it’s not enough” and that we “need to legalize marijuana at the federal level, expunge criminal records, and create paths for people of color to enter the legal marijuana industry.”

“We must ensure that as marijuana becomes a bigger business, we are committing ourselves to rebuilding communities that have been disproportionately targeted by failed drug policies and creating a diverse industry going forward,” she wrote in an op-ed for CNN. “If we fail to address a system that has historically been infected by racial bias, communities of color will continue to shoulder the devastating impacts of the past.”

“Times have changed. We must get smart on marijuana reform and give everyone the opportunity to reap the benefits that come from the legal marijuana industry,” she said.

After Illinois’s governor signed a marijuana legalization bill in June, Harris said she’s thankful that “states like Illinois are stepping up to correct the mistakes of our past” and that it’s “time to do the same at the federal level.”

“As the marijuana industry continues to grow, there are people of color sitting behind bars for doing the exact same thing. It’s time we changed the system,” Harris said at a conference in April 2019, adding that those most impacted by the war on drugs should be prioritized when it comes to job opportunities in the legal industry.

She also pledged to pardon some non-violent drug offenders if elected president.

“We have to have the courage to recognize that there are a lot of folks who have been incarcerated who should not have been incarcerated and are still in prison because they were convicted under draconian laws that have incarcerated them… for what is essentially a public health issue,” she said.

In November, Harris discussed the need for industry equity and joked about businesses claiming that rubbing CBD lotion all over one’s body is a cure-all.

The senator said that drug addiction should be treated as a health issue and “not in jails and prisons,” adding that people with prior cannabis convictions should be “first in line” to get jobs in the legal market.

Harris also said she would implement “mental health care on demand and drug treatment on demand.”

“Countless Americans have felt the devastating ramifications of the War on Drugs—millions still remain incarcerated to this day,” Harris said in March. “This is a matter of public health, drug addiction, and economic security. I’ll say it again as I did in 2008: it was a complete failure.”

“Our justice system continues to target and imprison young Black and Latinx Americans at high levels due to outdated, unjust marijuana laws,” she wrote. “I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we must legalize marijuana across the country.”

She also discussed her views on marijuana and drug policy during a campaign stop in New Hampshire in July.

“We have to treat it as a public health issue, specifically on the issue of marijuana,” Harris said. “We incarcerated whole entire populations, in particular young men of color, for possessing marijuana, and they ended up being felons for life on an issue that was literally—if you look at it just in terms of the disparities in terms of who was arrested, who was incarcerated and who was abusing—it was just wrong.”

Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts

Harris has talked quite a bit about marijuana in speeches and on social media.

When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo, which provided guidance on federal marijuana enforcement priorities, she said the Justice Department shouldn’t be focused on “going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

“This administration and Jeff Sessions want to take us back to the dark ages,” Harris said at the Center for American Progress Ideas Conference in 2017. “Sessions has threatened that the United States Department of Justice may renew its focus on marijuana use even as states like California, where it is legal.”

“Well, let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions,” she said. “We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations, dealing with issues like human trafficking—not going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana. Leave her alone.”

Harris hadn’t signed onto any marijuana reform legislation during the time she was going after Sessions. But she was using the battle to solicit signatures on a petition, a common tactic that politicians use to build email lists that they can later use for fundraising. Several House members pressured her and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) to take stronger action by blocking Justice Department nominees until the Cole memo was restored.

The senator has repeatedly called for federal cannabis decriminalization, characterizing existing laws as “regressive policies” that have “ruined” many lives.

“We need to decriminalize marijuana,” she said. “We have a problem of mass incarceration in our country. And let’s be clear, the war on drug was a failed war. It was misdirected.”

She has also criticized the federal government for blocking military veterans’ access to medical cannabis.

“As states moves toward legalizing marijuana, let’s remember how many lives have been ruined because of our regressive policies,” Harris wrote. “We must focus on restorative justice.”

In a 2017 interview with Rolling Stone, Harris said “I started my career as a baby prosecutor during the height of the crack epidemic—not all drugs are equal.”

“We have over-criminalized so many people, in particular poor youth and men of color, in communities across this country and we need to move it on the schedule,” she said. “Plus we need to start researching the effect of marijuana and we have not been able to do it because of where it is on the schedule.”

Harris congratulated Canada on its national legalization of marijuana in 2018.

Curiously, however, Harris also has a habit of referring to the war on drugs in the past tense—as if it isn’t the case that hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are still being arrested for cannabis and other drugs every year.

“The war on drugs was a failure,” she said in 2017. “It criminalized what is a public health matter. It was a war on poor communities more than anything.”

She also accused Sessions of “resuscitating” the drug war.

During her time as a prosecutor, Harris said she “saw the war on drugs up close, and let me tell you, the war on drugs was an abject failure.”

“It offered taxpayers a bad return on investment, it was bad for public safety, it was bad for budgets and our economy, and it was bad for people of color and those struggling to make ends meet,” she said.

“I’ll tell you what standing up for the people also means,” Harris said in 2015. “It means challenging the policy of mass incarceration by recognizing the war on drugs was a failure. And Democrats, on that point, let’s be clear also: now is the time to end the federal ban on medical marijuana. It is.”

During a speech announcing her presidential candidacy, Harris said, “Once and for all, we have got to call drug addiction what it is: a national, public health emergency. And what we don’t need is another war on drugs.”

Before Harris backed full legalization or federal decriminalization, she was supportive of rescheduling cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act. Asked about the policy in 2016, she said “I would work to remove marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II.”

“We need to reform our criminal justice system and changing the marijuana classification and drug sentencing laws are part of that effort.”

At a debate that year, she predicted that California voters would approve full legalization via a ballot measure (which they did) and reiterated that “we have to do is move [marijuana] from Schedule I to Schedule II.”

“We have incarcerated a large number of predominantly African American and Latino men in this country for possession and use at a very small scale of one of the least dangerous drugs in the schedule,” she said.

It is worth noting that Harris did not publicly endorse California’s successful 2016 cannabis legalization ballot initiative, though it is unknown how she personally voted on the measure.

Two years earlier, Harris told BuzzFeed that while she wasn’t ready to back the idea of legalization, she was “not opposed” to it and that there was “a certain inevitability about it.”

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” she said. “The detail of these things matters… I don’t have any moral opposition to it or anything like that. Half my family’s from Jamaica.”

But amid an earlier attempt to legalize marijuana in California through a 2010 initiative that appeared on the same ballot as Harris’s candidacy for state attorney general, she called the measure a “flawed public policy.” Her campaign manager said she “supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that” and that she “believes that drug selling harms communities.”

She also co-authored an argument against the measure that appeared in the state’s official ballot guide, stating that legalization “seriously compromises the safety of our communities, roadways, and workplaces.”

During a speech at The Commonwealth Club in 2010, Harris scoffed at a question about cannabis reform and said “I’m not a proponent of that, but I know that there are a lot of people who are. It’s not my issue.” At the same event she spoke about prosecuting people for selling drugs, saying, “I don’t feel sorry for you and I’m not going to forgive you for committing a crime.”

Later, during her stint as attorney general, Harris received criticism from some marijuana policy reform advocates for not doing more to push back against federal prosecutors’ crackdown against locally approved California medical cannabis dispensaries during the first term of the Obama administration, though she did send a series of letters on the topic and made some public statements.

“The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes,” she wrote in a letter to the state’s U.S. attorneys.

She also called on state lawmakers to clarify California’s medical cannabis laws in a separate letter, which argued that reforms might ward off further federal intervention. “Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist,” she wrote.

“Californians overwhelmingly support the compassionate use of medical marijuana for the ill. We should all be troubled, however, by the proliferation of gangs and criminal enterprises that seek to exploit this law by illegally cultivating and trafficking marijuana,” she said in a statement around the same time. “While there are definite ambiguities in state law that must be resolved either by the state legislature or the courts, an overly broad federal enforcement campaign will make it more difficult for legitimate patients to access physician-recommended medicine in California. I urge the federal authorities in the state to adhere to the United States Department of Justice’s stated policy and focus their enforcement efforts on ‘significant traffickers of illegal drugs.’”

An analysis by the Washington Free Beacon determined that at least 1,560 people were sent to California state prisons for marijuana-related offenses during Harris’s tenure as attorney general.

In a 2008 book, Harris argued that nonviolent crimes “exact a huge toll on America’s communities” and that it’s “important to fight all crime.”

“Drug crimes in particular exact a terrible toll and rob people young and old of hope,” she wrote.

Harris’s overall evolution on cannabis can be neatly summed up with two videos. The first shows her being asked about marijuana legalization in 2014 in light of her Republican opponent for attorney general supporting it. She dismissively laughs off the question.

The second shows Harris during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing pressing President Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, on whether he’d use Justice Department funds to go after marijuana businesses acting in compliance with state law.

Harris even attempted to crack her own marijuana joke during a recent appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, though the late night host didn’t seem especially amused.

In her book, The Truths We Hold, she took her message in support of legalization a step further. Not only should we “legalize marijuana and regulate it,” but we should also “expunge nonviolent marijuana-related offenses from the records of millions of people who have been arrested and incarcerated so they can get on with their lives,” Harris wrote.

“We also need to stop treating drug addiction like a public safety crisis instead of what it is: a public health crisis,” she also wrote, suggesting she may be in favor of broader drug policy reforms. “When someone is suffering from addiction, their situation is made worse, not better, by involvement in the criminal justice system.”

Harris’s presidential campaign website hosts a petition to legalize marijuana.

Personal Experience With Marijuana

Harris revealed in a radio interview that she smoked marijuana in college while listening to Tupac and Snoop Dogg, saying, “It gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy in the world.”

But that admission sparked a small controversy, with several people pointing out that neither artist had released their debut albums prior to Harris graduating. She conceded in November that she “ definitely was not clear about what I was listening to” while consuming cannabis.

In a separate interview, the senator said that she knows people who have benefited from using medical cannabis.

Marijuana Under A Biden-Harris Administration

Both Harris and Biden have evolved their positions on cannabis over time. Harris, a former prosecutor who campaigned against legalization in her own state has become the lead sponsor of a bill to federally legalize marijuana. Biden, who authored punitive drug legislation during his time as a senator, now supports modest cannabis reforms such as decriminalization and rescheduling, though he continue to oppose legalization. If the Democratic ticket gets elected, it remains to be seen to what extent the new administration would prioritize drug policy reform efforts and whether Harris would seek to encourage Biden to get behind full legalization.

Where Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Stands On Marijuana

Photo element courtesy of California Attorney General’s Office.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

Politics

House Rejects AOC Amendment To Promote Research Into Psychedelics’ Medical Benefits

Published

on

The U.S. House of Representatives rejected an amendment on Tuesday that was designed to free up research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics. The body also addressed several other amendments related to cannabis.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed the psychedelics measure, which would remove a 1990s-era provision that’s long been part of spending legislation for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The congresswoman attempted to eliminate the language via an amendment in 2019 only to have it defeated by Republicans as well as a majority of her own party members in a resounding vote of 91-331.

This time around—amid a growing national movement to reform laws around psychedelics—the chamber rejected it with a narrower 140-285 tally for inclusion as part of a large-scale funding package covering multiple federal agencies.

Most Democrats supported the reform in the most recent vote, but enough still sided with the vast majority of Republicans to defeat it.

“The United States has and continues to uphold an obsolete provision from the war on drugs,” Ocasio-Cortez said on the floor before the vote. “This provision specifically has for a very long period of time presented and acted as a barricade to federal research on certain substances— psilocybin, MDMA and marijuana—and allowing us to research the potential therapeutic applications of these drugs in the treatment of diseases such as PTSD, addiction and depression. We are long overdue.”

Rep. Lou Correa (D-CA) also spoke in support of expanding psychedelic research, saying the substances can “help veterans deal with those invisible wounds that they bring back from the battlefield—PTSD and other mental issues that they bring back with them and carry with them on a day to day basis.”

The House also acted on a series of other amendments concerning cannabis on Tuesday that the House Rules Committee had made in order for floor consideration earlier this week.

For example, a pro-reform proposal that advanced encourages the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to enact rules allowing CBD as a dietary supplement and food ingredient. Filed by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), and approved in a voice vote as part of an en bloc package with other amendments, it encourages FDA to create a regulatory pathway for CBD “no later than 180 days after enactment.”

In a House floor speech, Schrader said hemp businesses face “economic burdens from the regulatory uncertainty caused by lack of action” from FDA.

“The livelihoods of hemp farmers and safety of consumers across the country reside in the hands of the agency,” he said.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Lawmakers defeated a proposal from Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) appropriations bill to eliminate a rider that’s currently in the legislation that “allows federal funding to go to institutions of higher education that are conducting research on marijuana.”

That measure generated significant pushback given that research into cannabis is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue, and top federal drug officials have repeatedly urged Congress to support policies that make it easier to study the risks and benefits of the plant. What’s more, Lesko represents a state with adult-use legalization on the books.

The congresswoman argued in a House floor speech before the vote that not passing her amendment would “permit universities to offer a class called ‘Pot Smoking 101’ [that’s] dedicated to smoking pot under the false pretense of research.”

But House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said removing the current marijuana protections for universities in the bill could hamper studies.

“Without such research, there would be limited scientific discovery and breakthroughs helping to shape our daily lives,” she said. “Evidence-based research regarding cannabis ought to be encouraged in academic settings, not discouraged, and we should ensure that we broaden our understanding of marijuana, not limit it.”

Lesko’s amendment was rejected, with 147 votes in favor and 276 against.

Another amendment, which was rejected in a different en bloc package with other proposals, would have transferred “$25 million from the Environmental Programs and Management enforcement activities account to the National Forest System account for enforcement and remediation of illegal marijuana trespass grow sites on federal lands and for the clean-up of toxic waste and chemicals at these sites,” according to a description.

That measure was filed by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), who recently released video of himself driving a bulldozer of cannabis plants.

Two marijuana reform amendments from Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) that legalization advocates hoped to see advance were blocked from floor consideration by the Rules Committee on Monday.

Her proposals—which were aimed at appropriations legislation for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)—would have made it so marijuana possession or consumption could not be used as the sole basis for denying people access to public housing. One Norton amendment was narrowly focused on medical cannabis while a second measure would have covered all marijuana use that’s legal under state laws.

Members filed these proposed revisions as part of the appropriations minibus bill for fiscal year 2022 to fund the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Rural Development, Energy and Water Development, Financial Services and General Government, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development.

The spending package as introduced would also allow Washington, D.C. to use its local tax dollars to implement a system of lawful marijuana sales for adults.

That stands in contrast to a budget proposal from President Joe Biden, whose administration is seeking to keep language protecting medical cannabis states from federal intervention but has excluded the provision on giving D.C. autonomy to legalize marijuana commerce.

Another provision that was included as part of the Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill would protect banks that work with marijuana businesses. Further, the committee report attached to that legislation encourages federal government agencies to reconsider policies that fire employees for using marijuana in compliance with state law.

Federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions, a report attached to separate spending legislation that’s part of the minibus package says.

Report language also directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve communication on veteran eligibility for home loans and report back to Congress on its progress within 180 days of the enactment of the legislation. A separate provision urges VA to expand research on the medical benefits of cannabis for veterans.

In the report for Agriculture Department funding, lawmakers took issue with the 2018 Farm Bill’s 0.3 percent THC cap for lawful hemp products and directed USDA to work with HHS and DEA on a study of whether that threshold is scientifically backed. That report also addressed numerous other issues related to the crop.

Other report language attached to this spending package highlights the difficulty of studying Schedule I drugs like marijuana, recognizes the medical potential of cannabinoids like CBD, encourages federal agencies not to restrict the plant kratom and acknowledges the lifesaving value of syringe access programs and safe consumption sites for illegal drugs.

The appropriations process this session has seen numerous drug policy reform provisions included in bill text and attached reports—also stopping immigrants from being deported for cannabis, for example, among other issues.

A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers recently circulated a letter to build support for an amendment to a separate Department of Justice spending bill that would protect all state and tribal marijuana programs from federal interference—going beyond the existing measure that shields only medical cannabis states that’s currently enacted into law. There are now 15 cosponsors signed on to the broader proposal, which is being considered by the Rules Committee and may see floor action this week.

The Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) spending report also notes that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has moved to approve additional marijuana manufacturers for research purposes and says the committee supports ongoing research efforts on cannabis, particularly in the wake of an outbreak of lung injuries associated with unregulated vaping products.

The bill was up for Rules Committee consideration on Tuesday, but the panel delayed decisions on amendments until Wednesday morning.

A provision was also attached to the bill that would make states and localities ineligible for certain federal law enforcement grants if they maintain a policy allowing for no-knock warrants for drug-related cases. That policy garnered national attention following the police killing of Breonna Taylor, who was fatally shot by law enforcement during a botched drug raid.

Ohio Marijuana Activists Launch Ballot Campaign To Push Lawmakers To Enact Legalization

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Ohio Marijuana Activists Launch Ballot Campaign To Push Lawmakers To Enact Legalization

Published

on

Ohio marijuana activists have a new plan to legalize cannabis in the state as lawmakers pursue separate reform legislation.

Voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative, and advocates suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. But on Tuesday, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) launched a new effort to implore legislators to enact the policy change.

The group submitted the requisite 1,000 signatures to the Ohio attorney general’s office on Tuesday. Officials now have 10 days to review the summary and text to ensure that it is “fair and truthful” and approve it for circulation. Several existing medical cannabis businesses are backing the measure.

“I think people are tired of prohibition with respect to marijuana,” spokesperson Tom Haren told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday, adding that he thinks Ohioans are ready to join the growing list of states that are enacting legalization.

Unlike past efforts, the new measure is a statutory, rather that a constitutional, proposal. If supporters collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt and amended version. If lawmakers to not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the measure before voters on the ballot in 2022.

“We are proposing to regulate marijuana for adult use, just like we do for alcohol,” Haren said in a press release. “Our proposal fixes a broken system while ensuring local control, keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and benefiting everyone.”

The proposed law that CTRMLA is pushing would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.

It’s a notable departure from the failed 2015 reform initiative, which faced criticism from advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

Under the proposal, a Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of the enactment of the legislation.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.

Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”

“Marijuana legalization is an issue whose time has come in Ohio,” Haren said in the press release, adding that “we crafted legislation based on the best practices learned by those that went before us.”

“Ohioans want this,” he said. “They see marijuana legalization as inevitable. They want our leaders to seize the opportunity and take control of our future.”

With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.

Haren said the reason they weren’t able to prescribe specific expungement provisions is due to the state’s single subject ballot rule for initiated statutes.

If the measure does make the ballot, the results of local reform initiatives across the state signal that it would be successful.

As it stands, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year, with several having already collected enough signatures to qualify for local ballots.

“Legalization is popular in Ohio,” Haren told Marijuana Moment. “That’s why these types of local decrim measures are passing—because people recognize that marijuana prohibition has failed, and it’s not good policy. And it’s much better policy to have a regulated market that provides consumers with an ability to purchase from a legal, regulated source.”

Meanwhile, state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D) recently announced he will be sponsoring legislation alongside Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D) this session that would legalize and regulate marijuana in the state. It would mark the first time such a proposal to allow recreational cannabis commerce has been introduced in the legislature

“Ohioans and Americans are way out ahead on this issue, and the comfort level with first decriminalization and medical marijuana and then full legalization is just so far beyond where legislators are,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview about his bill. “This is an effort to close that gap and catch up.”

Haren said that while he hasn’t reviewed Weinstein’s legislation at this point, his organization would welcome working with any lawmaker to get reform enacted one way or the other.

Weinstein’s bill would would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It will also include provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

Like the CTRMLA proposal, a 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales. But after covering administrative costs, revenue would be divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the legislative effort given his record. But a voter-led initiative could create a different opportunity for advocates.

“We are laser focused at this point on getting the required number of signatures, sending it to the legislature and then working with them—hand in glove, in lockstep, whatever phrase you want to use—to get get this proposal ultimately signed into law by the governor,” Haren said.

According to cleveland.com, the CTRMLA campaign has already hired several prominent consulting firms to work on the effort, suggesting it has robust funding.

Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Bill To Create Psychedelics Legalization Task Force At Hearing

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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.
Continue Reading

Politics

Massachusetts Lawmakers Discuss Bill To Create Psychedelics Legalization Task Force At Hearing

Published

on

Massachusetts lawmakers on Tuesday heard testimony about a bill to create a task force charged with studying the implications of legalizing psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

The legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee met to discuss legislation from Rep. Mike Connolly (D). While members didn’t vote on the proposal, the sponsor was able to make the case for the reform, noting the emerging research that suggests entheogenic substances hold significant therapeutic potential for certain mental health conditions.

He also pointed to the local reform movement that’s led three Massachusetts cities to decriminalize psychedelics so far, saying it represents “another reason why it should be a priority for all of us to bring stakeholders together and have that conversation about what policies should look like.”

“We’re hearing from the medical community, we’re hearing from clinicians and researchers that the potential benefits here simply can’t be ignored,” Connolly said. “There are these issues like PTSD and depression, anxiety and addiction that…we are struggling to address, and what the research is telling us is that these substances offer a tremendous benefit.”

The 21-member task force that the lawmaker is proposing would be responsible for analyzing the pros and cons of “legalizing the possession, consumption, transportation and distribution of naturally cultivated entheogenic plants and fungi.”

The sponsor said on Tuesday that the group “could really allow Massachusetts to play a leadership role in crafting policies around these substances.”

In an email to Marijuana Moment, Connolly said that momentum for broader psychedelics and drug policy reform in states across the country shows that “our proposal to create a task force to craft policies around legalization is rational and warranted.”

“Given our status as a longtime leader in civil rights, freedom, academic research and advances in medicine,” he said, “it is important for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be proactive about crafting policies to ensure that as the movement for legalization of psychedelics continues to advance—and as the clinical trials showing the therapeutic value of these medicines continue to pile up—that we are moving forward in an equitable, just and inclusive fashion.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan also testified in favor of the reform proposal before the committee on Tuesday.

For the most part, the burgeoning psychedelics reform movement has been limited to decriminalization—with the exception or Oregon, where voters elected to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes during last year’s election. California activists are also pushing to place psilocybin legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot as a lawmaker works to pass a separate bill to legalize possession of a wide range of psychedelics that has already passed the state Senate and two Assembly committees.

While the Massachusetts legislation would only establish a task force to investigate the potential legalization of these substances, it marks another significant development demonstrating how local reforms have caught the attention of state legislators.

Connolly said at Tuesday’s hearing that it’s important to remember “that it was the Nixon administration in the 1970s that classified entheogens as Schedule I substances, without any real scientific basis. It was more to do with politics—it was more to do with systemic racism—that led to this classification and this criminalization.”

“Today, when you hear some of the professionals, some of the researchers talk about this, they really feel like we lost several decades of potential therapeutic benefit because of these arbitrary political decisions,” he said. “With this task force, there really is an opportunity for us in Massachusetts to bring policymakers and stakeholders together to make sure that as this research advances we can be ready with applicable policies, so don’t don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”

The lawmaker said “the war on drugs, racial injustice and years of oppression here in our country” partly motivated the introduction of his legislation.

The task force would “bring together stakeholders from the scientific, public safety, racial justice, harm reduction, indigenous, social work, the relevant regulatory bodies and medical communities to make recommendations for the legalization and possession, consumption and distribution of entheogenic substances,” he said.

Three Massachusetts cities—NorthamptonSomerville and Cambridge—have each passed resolutions to deprioritize enforcement of laws against the possession, use and distribution of a wide range of psychedelics and other drugs.

“I’m proud to represent Somerville and Cambridge, two communities that have acted in recent months to decriminalize the possession of psychedelics and entheogenic plans, primarily as part of the larger movement to continue working to undo the racist impact of the War On Drugs,” Connolly told Marijuana Moment.

If his bill is enacted, the 21-person task force would have until June 2022 to study the effects of plant- and fungi-based psychedelics and develop recommendations for how to legalize the substances “in a manner that maximizes equitable access and sustainable manufacture of these plants.”

Particular focus would be paid under the bill to the impact of drug prohibition on on marginalized groups, “including indigenous people, veterans, people with physical and mental health disabilities, Black people, people of Latino and Hispanic heritage, people of Asian descent, people of color, people in poverty, and people identifying with the LGBTQ community.”

The measure also calls for the task force to develop recommendations around “pardons, parole, diversion, expungement, and equity measures” for people with criminal records due to possession, or distribution of controlled substances.

The Massachusetts developments are some of the latest iterations of a national psychedelics reform movement that’s spread since Denver became the first city to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms in 2019.

Besides the cities in Massachusetts, four others—OaklandSanta CruzAnn Arbor and Washington, D.C.—have also decriminalized possession of plant-and fungi-based psychedelics.

An Arcata, California councilmember announced this month that she would sponsor a measure to decriminalize psychedelics. That measure has since been referred to a committee.

The governor of Connecticut signed legislation recently that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.

Texas also recently enacted a bill to require the state study the medical benefits of psychedelics for military veterans.

A New York lawmaker introduced a bill last month that would require the state to establish an institute to similarly research the medical value of psychedelics.

In Oakland, the first city where a city council voted to broadly deprioritize criminalization of entheogenic substances, lawmakers approved a follow-up resolution in December that calls for the policy change to be adopted statewide and for local jurisdictions to be allowed to permit healing ceremonies where people could use psychedelics.

After Ann Arbor legislators passed a decriminalization resolution last year, a county prosecutor recently announced that his office will not be pursuing charges over possessing entheogenic plants and fungi—“regardless of the amount at issue.”

The Aspen, Colorado City Council discussed the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and proposals to decriminalize such substances at a meeting in May. But members said, as it stands, enacting a reform would be more better handled at the state level while entheogens remain strictly federally controlled.

Seattle lawmakers also recently sent a letter to members of a local task force focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, imploring the group to investigate the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like ayahuasca and ibogaine in curbing addiction.

The psychedelics conversation is also catching on at the federal level.

The U.S. House of Representatives will vote this week on a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) that remove a spending bill rider that advocates say has restricted federal funds for research into Schedule I drugs, including psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ibogaine.

In 2019, a large majority of Democratic House members joined all but seven Republicans in a vote against an earlier version of the congresswoman’s amendment. But given the surge in state and local psychedelics reform efforts in the years since, it stands to reason that this Congress may take the issue more seriously this time.

Federal health agencies should pursue research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics for military veterans suffering from a host of mental health conditions, a report attached to separate spending legislation that’s part of an advancing minibus package says.

When it comes to broader drug policy reform, Oregon voters also approved an initiative in November to decriminalize possession of all drugs. This year, the Maine House of Representatives passed a drug decriminalization bill, but it later died in the Senate.

Last month, lawmakers in Congress filed the first-ever legislation to federally decriminalize possession of illicit substances.

White House Declines To Blame Marijuana Sales For Violent Crime Spike Despite D.C. Police Chief’s Comments

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Mushroom Observer.

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.
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Support Marijuana Moment

Marijuana News In Your Inbox

Marijuana Moment