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The Evolution of Kamala Harris’ Views On Marijuana

The Evolution of Kamala Harris’ Views On Marijuana

On Tuesday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced he was selecting Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 election.

Harris, a former prosecutor, has experienced an evolution regarding her views on marijuana prohibition during the last decade.

Views Prior to 2015

In 2003, Harris began her foray into electoral politics by challenging Democratic incumbent Terrence Hallinan for the San Francisco attorney general position. During the campaign, Harris criticized Hallinan’s office for its low conviction rate and vowed to take a tougher stance on crime. After successfully defeating Hallinan, Harris did just that. While at the helm, her office oversaw a 6 percent rise in marijuana convictions. Despite those high numbers, Paul Henderson, Harris’ chief of administration, stated, “Our policy was that no one with a marijuana conviction for mere possession could do any (jail time) at all.”

In 2010, while Harris was making a run for state attorney general, she came out against Proposition 19 — a bill designed to legalize and tax marijuana in California. Her campaign made the statement, “[Harris] supports the legal use of medicinal marijuana but does not support anything beyond that.”

Four years later, during re-election, she was flanked to the left by her Republican opponent Ron Gold who stated, “[marijuana] needs to be legalized immediately.” When told about Gold’s statement by a local news station, Harris simply laughed and said, “He’s entitled to his opinion.” 

2015 Through the Present 

In 2015 her position began to soften. During a speech at the California Democrats Convention, Harris came out in support of ending the federal ban on marijuana. She echoed this statement in 2016 after being elected to congress. Harris addressed noted marijuana prohibitionist Jeff Sessions directly while speaking at the Center for American Progress by saying, “Let me tell you what California needs, Jeff Sessions. We need support in dealing with transnational criminal organizations and dealing with human trafficking – not in going after grandma’s medicinal marijuana.”

She continued, “While I don’t believe in legalizing all drugs — as a career prosecutor, I just don’t — we need to do the smart thing, the right thing, and finally decriminalize marijuana.”

Her shifting views on cannabis prohibition became even more apparent in 2018 when Harris signed onto the Marijuana Justice Act — Presidential rival Cory Booker’s (D-NJ) far-reaching bill designed to end federal prohibition.

In 2019, Harris went a step further and co-sponsored the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE). The MORE Act called for not only complete federal legalization but also the expungement of prior marijuana convictions.   It marked the first time in history a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition.

“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,” Harris said in a press release regarding her involvement with the MORE Act.

“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.”

Harris went on to co-sponsor the SAFE Banking act —  an essential piece of legislation that would allow cannabis dispensaries access to financial institutions like banks and credit unions.

Where Jeff Sessions’s Temporary Replacement Stands On Marijuana

Where Jeff Sessions’s Temporary Replacement Stands On Marijuana

Anti-marijuana Attorney General Jeff Sessions tendered his resignation on Wednesday, one day after Republicans lost control of the House.

That left cannabis policy observers scrambling to find out where the temporary replacement at the top of the Department of Justice, Sessions’s Chief of Staff Matthew Whitaker, stands on marijuana.

Here’s what Marijuana Moment found in our initial review.

During a 2014 primary debate for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination from Iowa, Whitaker sympathized with patients who benefit from marijuana ingredient cannabidiol (CBD). But, he also voiced concerns about the disconnect between state legalization efforts and the enforcement of federal law under the Obama administration.

During the debate, hosted by Iowa Public Television, he was asked about the state’s recent passage of a CBD-only medical cannabis law.

“First of all, I know a couple of families that are going to be positively impacted by what has happened in the state senate today,” he said. “And I applaud them for helping those families who need that help.”

Whitaker then turned to the Justice Department’s marijuana policy under President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder.

“But what we have is we have an attorney general that is telling state attorney generals, ‘if you disagree with a law, you don’t have to enforce it.’ And I am gravely concerned that we are now going to go back and forth between who’s in the White House and what their drug enforcement policy is, and you’ll see under what we have now—where you have Colorado and other states legalizing it really with no federal interference—and then when we come back, we may have a different regulatory scheme.”

Well, then, what should Congress do to resolve those differences?

“I think Congress should regulate things that harm people, and that is the hard drugs and the like that dramatically hurt citizens, cause violent crime in our communities, and those should be regulated,” he said.

“But not marijuana?” the debate moderator asked.

“For me, I saw the impact of marijuana on our border,” he said, presumably referring to his time as a U.S. attorney. “And if you go to any of the counties in Texas where there’s an illegal importation of marijuana, there’s a tremendous amount of violence.”

Marijuana reform advocates have generally applauded the announcement of Sessions’s resignation, as the now former attorney general has a long history of demeaning cannabis consumers, disregarding research about the benefits of medical marijuana and upholding federal prohibition.

“Attorney General Jefferson Sessions was a national disgrace, NORML hopes he finds the time during his retirement to seek treatment for his affliction of 1950’s reefer madness,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said in a press release.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) called the move a “major step forward for marijuana reform,” also noting that Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), who has obstructed votes on marijuana-related legislation as chair of the House Rules Committee, was defeated in Tuesday’s midterm elections. The two are not related despite sharing the same last name and a disdain for cannabis.

However, there’s also an argument to be made that Sessions’s departure from the office could ultimately pose threats to the legal cannabis movement. Sessions and President Donald Trump have had a contentious relationship almost from the start of the administration, and the attorney general’s reluctance to crack down on legal cannabis states could theoretically be attributed, in part, to that dynamic. The next attorney general could enjoy some more flexibility when it comes to enforcing federal marijuana laws.

For his part, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) said on Tuesday that he’s looking forward to “continuing to work with the President to fulfill his campaign position to leave the regulation of marijuana to the states.”

Trump has already said he’s actively pursuing a permanent replacement for Sessions, so it’s unclear what, if anything, Whitaker could achieve during his temporary stint as acting attorney general, or how long his tenure will last.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1060256623439110146

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Where Jeff Sessions’s Temporary Replacement Stands On Marijuana

Photo courtesy of YouTube/Iowa Public Television

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Since being founded in 2013, anti-legalization organization Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has consistently presented itself as supporting a balanced middle-ground approach between incarceration for consumers and the commercialization of cannabis. But it has never clearly described what it thinks police and government agencies should do to people caught possessing marijuana instead of putting them behind bars or just ignoring them.

Until now.

In a new document uploaded to SAM’s website last week, the group lays out “several key points to be addressed in model legislation” for cannabis at the state level.

Chief among them:

“Require mandatory assessment of problem drug use by a treatment professional after the first citation; those who are diagnosed with a substance use disorder can be diverted into a treatment track where they receive the appropriate level of care, those who are not problem users can be directed to social services for follow-up and addressing other life factors contributing to drug use.”

Let’s break that down.

If the police catch someone possessing a small amount of marijuana once, the person is directed to a “mandatory assessment of problem drug use.” If they are diagnosed as having a substance use disorder they are then forced to undergo treatment. If they refuse, presumably they’d be incarcerated or otherwise punished in some way.

But even if it is determined that the person is “not a problem” user, they still get directed to “social services” to dig into “other life factors” associated with their decision to consume cannabis.

“Project SAM, like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, firmly believe that ‘good people don’t use marijuana,’” Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, told Marijuana Moment after reading the prohibitionist organization’s proposal. “In SAM’s case, their overarching philosophy appears to be, ‘Only people with problems use marijuana.’”

“Clearly, SAM believes that marijuana use per se should be defined under the law as aberrant behavior requiring varying degrees of state intervention,” he said. “Such an approach perpetuates the needless stigmatization of marijuana and those who consume it, and is clearly at odds with the attitudes of the majority of the public who desire to see and end to these discriminatory and punitive public policies.”

SAM representatives did not respond to Marijuana Moment’s request for clarification about whether and how people would be punished for refusing mandatory assessments, treatment or participation in social services programs.

While the organization this year endorsed New Jersey decriminalization legislation that would require people caught with marijuana to undergo assessments, the new blog post appears to be the first time the group has made a considerable effort to articulate its favored alternative to cannabis legalization despite repeated promises over the course of years that it would “soon” release information about its policy aims beyond just impeding efforts to end prohibition.

Under the new plan, it appears that most people caught with marijuana would have to pay for treatment themselves.

But in a concession to legalization advocates who have pointed out that marijuana laws are often enforced more harshly against those from communities with lesser economic means, SAM does suggest waiving fines and treatment costs for people who don’t have the money to pay. They also say community service could be an alternative to shouldering the monetary costs for those with “severe financial hardship.”

Kevin Sabet, SAM’s president, has consistently said in interviews that he doesn’t seek to punish people for consuming or cultivating marijuana at home and is merely concerned with stopping “Big Marijuana” companies from commercializing addiction. But his organization has repeatedly opposed legislative proposals to allow possession and limited cultivation with no sales.

“You could grow a plant at home, actually. You could homegrow,” he said in a 2016 interview, for example. “You could do gifting. You could do a kind of decriminalization where basically we turn the other way.”

Nonetheless, the group opposed a 2014 ballot measure in Washington, D.C. to legalize low-level possession and homegrow, as well as legislation in Vermont this year to allow the same thing. Neither proposed to create a legal, commercialized cannabis sales market and instead allows adults to “gift” marijuana to one another in line with Sabet’s statement.

Both measures were enacted into law over SAM’s objections.

Perhaps tiring of standing on the sidelines yelling “no” to legalization to no avail, the group is finally preparing to try its hand in shaping policy. It remains to be seen if the new “model legislation” document leads to a more hands-on role in the cannabis legislative process for the prohibitionist organization.

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Anti-Marijuana Group Wants ‘Mandatory Assessment’ For Consumers

Harm Reduction Measures At Music Events Don’t Violate Drug Law, DOJ Clarifies

Harm Reduction Measures At Music Events Don’t Violate Drug Law, DOJ Clarifies

The Trump administration quietly made a major concession to drug policy reform groups earlier this year, newly revealed letters between the Department of Justice and U.S. senators show.

In the correspondence, officials clarified that a federal law—which is aimed at punishing people who operate events that knowingly allow or facilitate illicit drug use—doesn’t actually prevent venue owners from providing certain harm reduction services for drug consumers at their events. Contrary to fears long expressed by activists, making free water and drug safety education materials available won’t be used as evidence of violating the law, the Justice Department said.

The clarification came in response to a request from Deirdre Goldsmith, whose daughter Shelley died from a heatstroke after taking MDMA at a dance concert in 2013.

Goldsmith has since become an advocate for harm reduction reform measures that could prevent similar incidents, and in November 2017, she wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions through her state’s two U.S. senators, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both Democrats, requesting clarification about provisions of the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation (IDAP) Act of 2003.

The law’s predecessor was called the Reducing Americans’ Vulnerability to Ecstasy (RAVE) Act, which, as the name suggests, targeted rave culture and ecstasy use. That version didn’t pass though, so a slightly more nuanced version, the IDAP Act, was introduced and passed in 2003. It was written by then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE).

Goldsmith wanted to know if common sense harm reduction policies violated the law. She said she’s heard from venue operators who were reluctant to provide services such as distributing public health information on-site at their events out of fear of federal prosecution.

“My journey since Shelly’s passing has led me to work to protect our young people from the many risks associated with incidental, illicit recreational drug use,” Goldsmith wrote.

“With your help, by clarifying exactly what is permitted by the Department of Justice under this law, we can give venue owners the assurance they need to implement measures to reduce the risk of harm to attendees’ due to unsafe settings.”

In January, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official replied, writing that the agency’s review of the law “did not identify any provision of the Act that would discourage law abiding venue owners from instituting safety measures for its patrons, including the provision of water.”

Good, but questions remained. Goldsmith said in a follow up letter that she appreciated the agency’s clarification and listed three other harm reduction measures that could mitigate “dire situations” at events like the one her daughter had attended. Would providing “cool down spaces,” distributing public health information on-site or expanding the number of trained medical personnel at these events put venue operators at risk of prosecution?

“Because some venues feel that they are not allowed to provide these common-sense safeguards because they fear prosecution, they continue to be, in my opinion, high-risk and dangerous settings in terms of public safety,” she wrote.

Again, the DEA responded. The agency didn’t weigh in on each specific measure she described, but it did note that it “shares Ms. Goldsmith’s concern that venue owners not be discouraged from providing appropriate safety measures at entertainment venues.”

The law is designed to penalize venue operators who “knowingly opened or maintained a place for the purpose of manufacturing, distributing, or using a controlled substance,” the DEA explained. “A variety of indicators may help to demonstrate that an offender had the requisite knowledge.”

“Moreover, dissemination of accurate public health information that outlines both the illegality and dangers of drug use may discourage prohibited conduct.”

That said, “[e]very investigation has its own unique set of facts and circumstances,” the DEA wrote. The agency recommended that venue owners contact the U.S. attorney’s office in their respective jurisdiction for further clarification.

“I’m very encouraged about [the DOJ’s letters], especially because it’s Trump’s Department of Justice,” Emanuel Sferios, founder of the harm reduction group DanceSafe, told Marijuana Moment. “I think they wrote it very clearly to let us, and promoters know that they would not be prosecuting club owners and festival promoters who provided these two services specifically: free water and drug information.”

Goldsmith publicly announced the DOJ clarification in a post on the Amend the RAVE Act website earlier this month.

“These are giant steps forward!” she wrote. “It means that the Department of Justice for the first time explicitly recognizes that providing free water and drug educational materials does not violate the RAVE Act. This is huge!”

Still, there’s work to be done, Sferios said. Advocates would like to the Justice Department to specifically exempt all “harm reduction services” at these events from the law, but the term itself has been stigmatized on Capitol Hill.

That’s “crazy,” he said, “because harm reduction is the preferred approach to dealing with drug use around the developed world.”

Read the letters between Goldsmith and the Justice Department below:

[scribd id=1 key=key-oRF3F8wCx87kOS4965Vj mode=scroll]

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

Harm Reduction Measures At Music Events Don’t Violate Drug Law, DOJ Clarifies

State Financial Regulators Push Congress To Fix Marijuana Banking Problems

State Financial Regulators Push Congress To Fix Marijuana Banking Problems

A coalition of the top financial regulators in 13 states is demanding congressional action to protect banks that serve marijuana businesses.

In a letter sent to congressional leaders late last week, the regulators stressed that conflicting state and federal cannabis laws have inhibited economic growth, created confusion among state banks and credit unions and jeopardized public safety.

“It is incumbent on Congress to resolve the conflict between state cannabis programs and federal statutes that effectively create unnecessary risk for banks seeking to operate in this space without the looming threat of civil actions, forfeiture of assets, reputational risk, and criminal penalties,” the regulators wrote.

“While Congress has taken some action, such as the Rohrabacher amendment prohibiting federal funds being used to inhibit state medicinal marijuana programs, this has been an impermanent approach that requires a permanent resolution.”

Finance officials from Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Washington State signed the letter.

One of the factors that prompted the letter was Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision earlier this year to rescind the Obama-era “Cole memo,” which offered some enforcement guidelines for federal prosecutors when it comes to marijuana laws. Rescinding the guidance led to “uncertainty about banks’ ability to serve this industry without running afoul of federal statutes,” the regulators wrote.

The letter also recognized that this coalition is not alone in its demand for clarity around banking and cannabis policy.

In June, a bipartisan group of 12 governors called on lawmakers to pass the STATES Act, a bill that amends the Controlled Substances Act to create an exemption for state-legal marijuana activity. That bill would effectively protect banks dealing with cannabis businesses.

“Our states have acted with deliberation and care to implement programs through thoughtful and comprehensive legislation and regulations,” the governors wrote. “Our citizens have spoken, we are responding. We ask that Congress recognize and respect our states’ efforts by supporting and passing the STATES Act.”

Confusion in the finance industry over marijuana policy appears to be coming to a head in the United States. As federally backed banking institutions continue to reject clients who deal in the marijuana industry, more businesses are turning to a handful of institutions that are willing to serve cannabis growers, processors and retailers—but the regulators said that’s only a temporary solution.

One example of the consequence of state and federal policy conflicts was recently reported by Marijuana Moment. A candidate running for a Florida agricultural commission seat was told that her Wells Fargo account would be closed after the bank discovered donations from “lobbyists from the medical marijuana industry.”

“A majority of states now have medical marijuana programs and it has become increasingly necessary to craft policy to respond to emerging challenges in this rapidly growing industry,” the new letter from financial regulators concludes. “We must work together to look for solutions rather than avoiding this challenge and ignoring the new policy landscape.”

See the original article published on Marijuana Moment below:

State Financial Regulators Push Congress To Fix Marijuana Banking Problems

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