Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Court Pro-Cannabis Vote
The race to the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee next July is in full swing. Two debates have already taken place with two more on CNN scheduled for July 30-31.
Several candidates are pushing hard to secure the cannabis vote. Here’s the latest, breaking news.
The Senator from California has teamed up with Rep. Jerry Nadler from New York on the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act (MORE), announced on July 23. According to Harris’ website, the bill “aims to correct the historical injustices of failed drug policies that have disproportionately impacted communities of color and low-income communities by requiring re-sentencing and expungement of prior convictions. This will create new opportunities for individuals as they work to advance their careers, education and overall quality of life. Immigrants will also benefit from the Act, as they will no longer be subject to deportation or citizenship denial based on even a minor marijuana offense. It also ensures that all benefits in the law are available to juvenile offenders.”
“We need to start regulating marijuana and expunge marijuana convictions.”
Highlights of MORE include removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), expunging prior convictions, creating an Opportunity Trust Fund, providing non-discrimination protections and ensuring that “people of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are participating in the industry.”
Sen. Harris stated: “Times have changed – marijuana should not be a crime. 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. As marijuana becomes legal across the country, we must make sure everyone – especially communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by the War on Drugs – has a real opportunity to participate in this growing industry.”
The other candidates to sign on as MORE sponsors are Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Trying to counter his reputation as a backer of the drug war dating to when he voted for the Crime Bill in 1994 as a Senator, Biden reiterated his call to decriminalize marijuana on July 23. The former Vice President’s plan would move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II rather than deschedule it altogether. This is similar to Hillary Clinton’s moderate stance in 2016.
Biden wants states to eliminate mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenses, which were instituted in the ’90s. He would also end the sentencing disparity between powder cocaine and crack, provide more educational opportunities for inmates, end cash bail, create a task force to deal with discrimination, prioritize treatment over incarceration and promote the use of drug courts.
One of his adversaries, Sen. Booker, tweeted: “It’s not enough to tell us what you’re going to do for our communities, show us what you’ve done for the last 40 years. You created this system. We’ll dismantle it.”
The New Jersey Senator has been at the forefront of the movement to end federal marijuana prohibition for several years. His Marijuana Justice Act (MJA), introduced in 2017 with support from fellow candidates and Senators Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bennett, was reintroduced in the Senate in February.
According to his office’s press release, the MJA would “reverse decades of failed drug policy that has disproportionately impacted low-income communities and communities of color. Beyond removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances – making it legal at the federal level – the bill would also automatically expunge the convictions of those who have served federal time for marijuana use and possession offenses, and it would reinvest in the communities most impacted by the failed War on Drugs through a community fund.”
“It’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana.”
Booker stated at the time: “The War on Drugs has not been a war on drugs, it’s been a war on people, and disproportionately people of color and low-income individuals. The Marijuana Justice Act seeks to reverse decades of this unfair, unjust, and failed policy by removing marijuana from the list of controlled substances and making it legal at the federal level.
“But it’s not enough to simply decriminalize marijuana. We must also repair the damage caused by reinvesting in those communities that have been most harmed by the War on Drugs. And we must expunge the records of those who have served their time. The end we seek is not just legalization, it’s justice.”
At a candidates’ forum held by AARP in Iowa on July 20, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana commented: “When it comes to American drug policy, I don’t think anyone can look at it and say it’s looking well,“ but added cautiously: “I don’t recommend smoking anything.”
Buttigieg related a personal story during the SXSW festival in Austin on March 9 about the time he was almost arrested for marijuana possession when he attended Harvard in Cambridge, MA from 2001-2004.
“I was standing outside my dorm,” the 37-year-old candidate recollected. “I was on my way home from a party or something. I ran into a friend and he had an acquaintance with him, and we were chatting, and at some point I noticed that she was smoking a joint. And just out of curiosity – there was like a little bit left – I was like, ‘Oh, is that…’ And she handed it to me.”
“We have to end the War on Drugs and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”
Noting that he “didn’t smoke a lot in college,” Buttigieg went on with the story: “At exactly, precisely this instant, a police car drives by – university police – and I thought, well, that’s gotta go over the shoulder.” The officer came over and reprimanded him. “Who do think you are smoking this?’ What is this, a roach, on the street?”
Unfamiliar with the term “roach” for the butt of a joint, Buttigieg admitted: “This was not helpful.”
“You fucking arrogant Harvard kids think you can just go out here and smoke this,” the officer ranted.
“And then my hands are on the back of his trunk and he’s going through my pockets to see if I’ve got anything more on me. He yells a few more obscenities, and just as I’m getting ready to take a ride with him, he drives off. And that was it. It’s a funny story I can tell about my college days.”
The Mayor acknowledged that he’d benefitted from white privilege that night.
“A lot of people probably had the exact same experience, and would not have been believed, and would have been a lot worse than yelled at, and would not have slept in their own beds that night – and maybe would have been derailed in their college career because of it.
“It’s one of many reasons why I think we have to end the War on Drugs and move towards the legalization of marijuana.”