June 27, 2017

Dragan Vojnovic, Author at MARIJUANA POLITICS

Andrew Sullivan’s Next Book to Discuss Cannabis and Christianity

Political-commentating powerhouse Andrew Sullivan is working on a new book on the future of Christianity in which he plans to discuss the role of cannabis in religious practice.

“Cannabis and psilocybin have been really important parts of my own faith life,” he told Marijuana Politics, “People always regard these things as antithetical to religion or to spirituality, whereas of course nothing could be further from the truth.”

Sullivan spoke with Marijuana Politics in February at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, where he delivered a speech on marijuana reform.

Openly Catholic, Andrew Sullivan seemed enthusiastic at the prospect of discussing marijuana use in the context of Christian spirituality – but he stressed that this was only a portion of his upcoming book. “That’s a tiny sliver of the book,” he said. “As a believing Christian, I want to reintroduce Jesus to people who have only heard the worst and the most awful descriptions of Christianity.”

Sullivan hopes his book can challenge misconceptions about and within Christianity. “I figured that a gay man like me, who has survived HIV, might be able to get a hearing about what Christianity really needs to be about and what it really is,” he explained.“The current Pope has given us an opening to redescribe Christianity in a more accepting, tolerant, open, and beautiful way. In a way that it has become so divorced from in recent years.”

When it comes to the relationship between cannabis and Christianity, Andrew Sullivan makes the case that they can go hand in hand quite nicely. “My own conscience tells me that when I disappear off to the end of the dunes on Cape Cod in the summer, and I’ve had a little bit of joint, and I sit and I pray and meditate, and observe beauty, that this is an avenue towards understanding God, not a path away,” he says, “and that’s the only thing that should matter for a Christian.”
AndrewSullivanICBCSF
Andrew Sullivan delivers a keynote address at the 2016 International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in San Francisco. Photo credit: Matt Emrich Photography.

Make No Mistake: Hillary Clinton is a Drug Warrior

Hillary Clinton’s record on the War on Drugs sets her apart from other the other candidates – and not in a good way. From her criminal justice agenda as First Lady to her foreign policies as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has proven herself to be one of the greatest drug warriors of our generation. At a time when two-thirds of Americans support ending the War on Drugs, it’s crucial for her record on the issue to be brought to light.

Over the course of Bill Clinton’s presidency, Hillary Clinton publicly supported tough-on-crime criminal justice reforms that escalated and emboldened the War on Drugs.

As First Lady, Hillary Clinton pushed for the largest crime bill in the history of the United States: the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This 1994 crime bill called for 100,000 more police officers, provided billions of dollars of funding to prison construction, and ramped up the use of mandatory minimum sentences. This law became a signature accomplishment of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

Under this law, drug users were more easily incarcerated and more likely to serve long sentences – which fueled even more draconian patterns of mass incarceration. By the time the Clintons had left the White House in 2001, the number of Americans in prison had increased nearly 60 percent.

Their contribution to mass incarceration rivaled that of the greatest drug warriors.

According to Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow, “Clinton escalated the drug war beyond what conservatives had imagined possible a decade earlier.” As Donna Murch points out in The New Republic, “the total numbers of state and federal inmates grew more rapidly under Bill Clinton than under any other president, including the notorious Republican drug warriors Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush.”

Hillary Clinton’s involvement with the War on Drugs didn’t stop there.

As Secretary of State, Clinton waged the War on Drugs abroad. Under Hillary Clinton’s leadership, the State Department fueled the Mexican Drug War by funding efforts to combat drug trafficking. Through its Mérida Initiative, Clinton’s State Department hired American defense contractors to take part in the conflict and sold billions worth of weapons to Mexico – leading it to become one of the world’s top purchasers of U.S. military arms and equipment.

Over the course of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, the Mexican Drug War spiraled into chaos, killing over 160,000 people and displacing millions of others.

Worse still: As Clinton’s State Department gave billions in drug war aid to Mexico, it turned a blind eye to the widespread human rights abuses perpetrated by the country’s government. Even as the United Nations acknowledged that Mexican authorities were involved in kidnappings and disappearances, Clinton’s State Department continued to support the offensive.

Now aiming for the presidency, in the Democratic race against Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton describes herself as a progressive leader who will end mass incarceration. As she campaigns for the Democratic nomination, Clinton appears to have “evolved” on issues of drug policy, and gives lip-service to some of the things drug policy reformers have been saying for years. In a January debate, for instance, she stressed the importance of treating addiction as a health issue rather than a crime, hinting at an understanding of the failures of the drug war.

While Hillary Clinton is willing to speak vaguely against the War on Drugs, she refuses to embrace meaningful reforms to current drug policies. While most Americans agree that marijuana should be legal, Clinton supports rescheduling it to Schedule II, the same category as cocaine and methamphetamine. This proposal would do little to end the War on Drugs, but would facilitate research on medical marijuana and allow pharmaceutical companies to sell cannabinoid drugs.

Hillary Clinton’s drug policies are completely in line with those of the wealthy special interests that fund her campaign, like the private prison lobby and Big Pharma. Under Clinton’s marijuana policy, users would still be prosecuted for mere possession (as is the case for cocaine and methamphetamine users), but drug companies would get a free pass to profit off of marijuana’s medicinal value.

This position on marijuana policy is certainly not enough to redeem Clinton’s record of tough-on-crime legislation and drug warmongering abroad. Though she didn’t declare it, Hillary Clinton has been a champion of the War on Drugs. Her policies have sacrificed millions of lives to the failed ideal of a drug-free America and her contribution to mass incarceration haunts this nation to this day.

Viewed as a whole, Hillary Clinton’s record reveals her to be a staunch drug warrior – and if she won’t push for meaningful reforms now, it’s unlikely she’ll ever get around to it.

(Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

Bernie Sanders Plan to Deschedule Marijuana Earns Support of Former Surgeon General

Bernie Sanders’ proposal to deschedule marijuana just got a big endorsement: former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders.

“I certainly would support” it, Dr. Elders told Marijuana Politics on Saturday. “You know, we don’t have cigarettes [in the Controlled Substances Act]. We don’t have alcohol on it,” she added, “So I think that marijuana should be removed and studied and looked at.” Dr. Joycelyn Elders was in San Francisco for the International Cannabis Business Conference where she delivered a keynote address on marijuana reform.

Vermont Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made waves last summer when he expressed support for marijuana reform. In November, Sanders followed through, introducing a bill to end the federal ban on marijuana by descheduling it from the Controlled Substances Act.

While Sanders is not the only presidential hopeful advocating for marijuana reforms, he has gone further on this issue than any other candidate from the two major parties. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been more cautious, calling instead for rescheduling marijuana to Schedule II, the same drug category as cocaine and methamphetamine. On the Republican side, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has earned praise from drug policy reformers for introducing a bill to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Former Surgeon General Elders’s comments serve as a much-needed boost to the Sanders proposal. While most Americans believe marijuana should be legal, Bernie Sanders’s legislation still has zero co-sponsors in the Senate.

A pediatrician, Dr. Elders served as Surgeon General in the Clinton administration. In 1993, she opined that drug legalization should be studied as a possible way to reduce crime, which drew criticism from the White House as well as tough-on-crime politicians more broadly. “I felt like the government should be involved in studying it, and, if necessary, legalizing it,” she said, “so that it could be taxed and the funds used to make a real difference.”

As Surgeon General, Dr. Elders was also a vocal proponent of comprehensive sex education and famously suggested schools should teach about masturbation – another position which put her at odds with the White House. “Anytime we don’t give the full story, that’s a problem,” she told Marijuana Politics, “I thought that our children should have a complete sexual education.”

Because of these positions, Dr. Joycelyn Elders was forced to resign as Surgeon General. Since retiring from public service, Dr. Elders teaches pediatrics at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and speaks for the causes of drug policy reform and comprehensive sex education.

My full interview with Dr. Elders at the ICBC in San Francisco where she discusses her position on the Drug War, including backing Bernie Sanders’ plan to end cannabis prohibition (starting at 5:32):

On Marijuana, Hillary Clinton Sides with Big Pharma Over Young Voters

As her lead in the polls continues to dwindle, Hillary Clinton is trying her best to appeal to young voters, who favor her main opponent, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Clinton goes to ridiculous lengths in her attempts to woo young people into supporting her campaign: she’s whipped and nae-naed on Ellen, dubbed herself Chillary Clinton, and even asked college students to describe how they felt about their student debt “in three emojis or less.”

Although it seems that she’ll do anything to get their votes, there’s one thing Hillary Clinton won’t do: champion the issues that young voters care about.

While 77% of young Democrats believe marijuana should be legal, Hillary Clinton is unwilling to support meaningful marijuana reforms. She’s opposed decriminalizing marijuana during her previous presidential run and has given little indication that she changed her position on the issue since. Today, Clinton will only go so far as to support the rescheduling of marijuana to Schedule II, giving it the same legal status as cocaine and methamphetamine.

It’s unlikely that Clinton’s reluctance to embrace marijuana law reform will help her gain popularity among young voters. But her positions on this issue are certainly in line with the interests of a key ally of hers: Big Pharma.

Despite naming the pharmaceutical industry as one of her greatest “enemies,” Hillary Clinton has received more money from drug companies than any other candidate this cycle. Pharmaceutical manufacturers donated more than $340,000 for her 2008 presidential bid – and in just the first six months of her 2016 campaign, Clinton has received over $160,000 from drug companies. To top it off, Big Pharma giants Pfizer and Proctor & Gamble each have donated between $1 million and $5 million to the Clinton Foundation. And that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg, as Clinton enjoys the support of numerous Super PACs whose finances are notoriously obscure.

Big Pharma has a lot to lose from marijuana reform. The medical properties of marijuana make it a direct competitor with some of their best-selling drugs, namely opioid painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Recent research suggests that marijuana allows patients to treat their pain with lower doses of opioids and that providing access to marijuana reduces the prevalence of opioid use. Additionally, marijuana cannot be patented, making it difficult for drug companies to profit off its sale.

In other words, pharmaceutical companies cannot get rich off of marijuana – but marijuana could severely impact Big Pharma’s profits.

With Hillary Clinton in their pocket, pharmaceutical companies expect their candidate to protect their bottom line – and that’s exactly what she’s is doing. There’s no doubt that Clinton wants to earn the support of young voters, but she’s unwilling to do that at the expense of her long-standing alliance with the pharmaceutical industry. Hillary Clinton can dab all she wants, but on marijuana, she’s sided with Big Pharma, not with the young voters she wants to seduce.

(Photo credit: Brett Weinstein via Flickr)

If Chris Christie Really Cared About Addiction, He Would Support Legalization

Of all the Republican presidential candidates, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems to be the most concerned about drugs and addiction. With drug policy now a focus of national attention, voicing his positions on these issues could be a good way for him to stand out from a crowded field of GOP candidates – especially if he were to go off-script and “tell it like it is.”

Unlike many of his rivals, Gov. Christie seems to get some things right when it comes to drug policy. The governor made waves last year when he brought attention to the harms of opioid use, like drug dependence and overdose. But rather than resorting to hollow anti-drug rhetoric, Chris Christie surprised us all by calling for a new approach on drug policy, describing the War on Drugs as a “well-intentioned failure.”

Speaking in New Hampshire in August, Chris Christie called for compassion towards drug users, bringing up a friend of his who had died of a heroin overdose. “It can happen to anyone,” he said, “And so we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them.” Christie even called out the hypocrisy of anti-abortion advocates who support the War on Drugs: “The 16-year-old teenage girl on the floor of the county lockup, addicted to heroin, I’m pro-life for her too.”

These remarks have earned Chris Christie praise for his forward-thinking take on drug policy, and for many advocates of reform, they hinted at the possibility that the anti-drug fervor of the Republican Party could be on its way out. Sadly, Chris Christie’s apparent compassion is still nowhere to be found when it comes to marijuana users.

Over the course of his candidacy, Christie has repeatedly attacked marijuana users and promised strict enforcement of federal drug laws should he be elected president. He’s called marijuana users “diseased,” threatening to cure them with law enforcement, and even dismissed medical marijuana as “a front for legalization,” which he vocally opposes. Time and time again, Gov. Christie has called for the federal government to impose prohibition and crack down on states with reformed marijuana laws.

Just last week, at the sixth Republican presidential debate, Chris Christie slammed President Obama for not interfering with states’ experiments with marijuana regulation:

This president doesn’t enforce the marijuana laws in this country because he doesn’t agree with them, and he allows states to go ahead and do whatever they want on a substance that’s illegal. He allows lawlessness throughout this country.

(via Extract)

Gov. Christie’s stance on marijuana policy is completely at odds with his position on solving the problems of opioid use. In fact, not only do his anti-marijuana views directly contradict his more compassionate sentiment towards opioid users, but research suggests that his proposed marijuana policy would likely increase the harms of drug use across the country.

In a study published last year, researchers found that states where marijuana is legally available saw significantly lower rates of drug-related harm. According to the Washington Post, “the presence of marijuana dispensaries was associated with a 15 to 35 percent decrease in substance abuse admissions. Opiate overdose deaths decreased by a similar amount.” The researchers conclude that “providing broader access to medical marijuana may have the potential benefit of reducing abuse of highly addictive painkillers.”

In other words, Gov. Christie’s anti-marijuana agenda would not help reduce drug-related harm – it would actually prevent lives from being saved.

Chris Christie is right to be concerned about the harms of drugs, and his compassionate critique of the drug war is undeniably praise-worthy. If Chris Christie really is pro-life when it comes to drug users, then he ought to be consistent across the board and give up on Reefer Madness. If Chris Christie really cares about drug addiction, he should support legalization. Advocating for anything else exposes him as either misguided or completely dishonest.

(Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr)

OMMBC 2015: A Critical Component of the Marijuana Business Curriculum

OMMBC

It’s hard to overstate the importance of conferences to the cannabis community. Getting together, if even for a few days, provides us with amazing opportunities to learn, network, and share – and it’s no surprise why some travel thousands of miles to attend cannabis conferences across the country. As a drug policy reform activist for the past seven years, I have been to my fair share of marijuana conferences, and still to this day, I’m blown away by the exceptional work of marijuana reformers and the progress we’ve accomplished as a movement.

This year’s Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference (OMMBC) stands out as one of the most inspiring conferences I’ve had the chance to attend. This weekend, over 600 members of the cannabis community are gathered in downtown Portland for one of the most impressive events the movement has to offer. Featuring speeches by accomplished reform advocates, including Judge Jim Gray and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the OMMBC is without a doubt a critical component of the marijuana business curriculum.

The conference kicked off on Saturday with a keynote speech by Judge Jim Gray, an outspoken critic of the War on Drugs who served as the running mate for Gary Johnson in the 2012 presidential election. He is also the author of a fascinating book on the drug war, aptly titled Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed: A Judicial Indictment Of War On Drugs.

Judge Gray spoke boldly about his support for drug policy reform, touching on his personal experience as a father and a law enforcement official. He was eager to talk about marijuana’s medicinal value – something that many politicians have yet to acknowledge – and took part in an engaging Q&A where he encouraged the audience to ask hard-hitting questions.

The first day of the conference also featured a powerful panel on women in the marijuana movement. Moderated by veteran activist Debbie Goldsberry, the panel included the compelling stories of Ashley Preece-Sackett (WomenGrow, Cascadia Labs), Chelsea Hopkins (The Greener Side), and Dale Sky Jones (Oaksterdam University). More than just a celebration of their role in the movement, the panelists highlighted the work that remains to be done to make the industry more inclusive to women, such as countering the stigmatization of women in the marijuana movement, fighting against sexual harassment in the workplace, and addressing the gender pay gap.

The OMMBC is an essential opportunity for the cannabis community to stay up to date with the rules and regulations that shape the industry. The conference included a comprehensive overview of Oregon marijuana laws presented by Anthony Johnson, the director of New Approach Oregon, the political action committee responsible for the success of Measure 91. As the world of marijuana policy is changing increasingly fast, the wealth of information provided by the conference is more vital than ever to fostering a healthy and successful marijuana industry.

While this applies to community members from all across the United States, this is particularly true for those doing business in Oregon, as the state will be moving forward with implementing legalization in the next few weeks. On October 1st, medical dispensaries in Oregon will begin adult-use marijuana sales, and it’s crucial for industry members to be well-informed on the specifics of this newly legal market.

But these rules are merely temporary, as state authorities plan on releasing permanent regulations later this year, so it’s imperative that the community stays proactive in staying up to date with changing marijuana policies. Thankfully, there are more conferences coming up: the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference will be in Ashland, Oregon on November 21st, and the 2016 International Cannabis Business Conference will be happening on February 13th and 14th in San Francisco.

In Bed With Prison Lobby, Hillary Clinton Unlikely to End War on Drugs

As most Americans have come to realize, the War on Drugs has been a phenomenal disaster. Triggering the arrest of millions of otherwise law-abiding Americans, it has contributed to an unprecedented pattern of mass incarceration, one which unfairly targets the poor and people of color. Despite its success in locking up drug offenders en masse, the War on Drugs has failed to reduce either drug use or the harms of drugs, amounting to one of the greatest policy failures of the past century.

More than ever, Americans need a leader with the political courage to put an end to the drug war.

Hillary Clinton seems reluctant to take on this fight as president. She’s stayed mostly silent on the failures of our current drug policies during the course of her presidential campaign. Clinton has been historically opposed to marijuana decriminalization, and while voters have confronted her multiple times on the issue of marijuana, she has yet to clarify her current stance on drug policy.

While Hillary Clinton may not speak openly about her stance on the War on Drugs, her record on criminal justice issues reveals her as a staunch proponent of tough-on-crime legislation. In the 1990s, she favored punitive sentences to deter people from violating the law, including “Three Strikes” measures that proved not only disastrous but unconstitutional as well:

Hillary Clinton has a complicated history with incarceration. As first lady, she championed efforts to get tough on crime. “We need more police, we need more and tougher prison sentences for repeat offenders,” Clinton said in 1994. “The ‘three strikes and you’re out’ for violent offenders has to be part of the plan. We need more prisons to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets,” she added.

(via The Intercept)

More revealing still is how Hillary Clinton is funding her campaign. As reported in July by The Intercept, the Washington insiders collecting cash for Hillary Clinton are the same that lobby politicians on behalf of the prison industry:

Fully five Clinton bundlers work for the lobbying and law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. Corrections Corporation of America, the largest private prison company in America, paid Akin Gump $240,000 in lobbying fees last year. The firm also serves as a law firm for the prison giant, representing the company in court.

(via The Intercept)

This Clinton-prison connection represents a dangerous conflict of interest that should worry drug law reform advocates. When you compare Clinton’s financial ties to the prison-industrial complex with Bernie Sanders’ call to abolish private prisons, it is no wonder why marijuana law reform advocates and Drug War reformers have largely flocked to Sanders’ campaign.

It’s not uncommon for American politicians to accept campaign donations from big corporations to get themselves into office, but special interests rarely invest in candidates that don’t favor their bottom line. In other words, considering where her campaign’s funding comes from, it’s likely that a Clinton presidency would perpetuate mass incarceration, if not escalate it.

Is Donald Trump More Sensible Than Hillary Clinton on Marijuana?

Donald Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton

As his poll numbers continue to rise in the Republican primary, Donald Trump remains a focus of media attention. Building on his popularity among Republicans, the business magnate multiplies media appearances, giving journalists the opportunity to question him on his political positions on a variety of issues. Most of the discussion around Trump’s platform relates to his views on subjects like the economy and immigration reform, but many of us have been eager to find out where he stands on marijuana policy.

In more ways than one, Donald Trump appears unlikely to support major marijuana reform in the United States. Trump portrays himself as adamantly pro-police and “presented himself Saturday as the ‘law and order’ candidate in the 2016 presidential race, pledging to ‘get rid’ of gangs and give more power to police officers.” Like some early drug warriors, Trump is also known to hold views that some consider racist against immigrants from Mexico, whom he described as “rapists” in his announcement speech. And while he knew in 1990 that legalization is “the only answer” to the failing War on Drugs, he has opted to support prohibition anyway during his presidential bid.

This is why it was surprising to find out that Donald Trump strongly implied his support for marijuana decriminalization. Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe on August 20, Trump explained that while he advocates for tougher measures against violent criminals, he doesn’t think people should be jailed simply for using marijuana:

Joe Scarborough: What about like marijuana? Should a kid be thrown in jail because he gets busted for marijuana?

Donald Trump: I don’t really think so. And I think that maybe the dealers have to be looked at very strongly. But then you have states all of a sudden legalizing it. So it’s sort of hard to say that you’re in one side of the border and you go to jail and you’re on the other side and can you go into a store and buy it. So there is going to be changes made there, Joe, and there has to be. But you just can’t. So when you mention the marijuana, that is a very tough subject nowadays, especially since it’s been legalized.

(via The Daily Caller)

Donald Trump seems like an unlikely ally for the drug law reform movement, and has yet to present concrete proposals on matters of drug policy, but this interview suggests he might be more reasonable on the issue of marijuana than some of his Republican rivals. (We’re looking at you, Chris Christie.) Considering the fact that he has also pledged full support to medical marijuana, it’s quite possible that Donald Trump is more sensible on drug policy than Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, who has historically opposed marijuana decriminalization and teamed up with the prison lobby to raise funds for her campaign. It is rather amazing that Secretary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, may be less progressive on cannabis policy than anti-establishment candidate Bernie Sanders and the GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Other candidates should be pressed on questions of drug policy – and marijuana more specifically – as their answers could provide us with a measure of how much better (or worse) their drug policy positions are compared to Donald Trump’s.

Photo Credit: Maring Photography/Getty Images/Contour by Getty Images

 

Bernie Sanders Announces Bill to Abolish Private Prisons, Hints at Marijuana Policy Platform

Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders isn’t done talking about criminal justice reform — in fact, he’s merely getting started. The presidential contender continues to rise in the polls and sensible Drug War reforms will only increase his standing with the Democratic base.

Appearing at a campaign rally in Nevada on Tuesday, the Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate talked at length about the unfairly punitive policies that plague the American justice system and disproportionately affect people of color in the United States. Speaking to the crowd of 4,500 supporters gathered outside the University of Nevada, Sen. Sanders went beyond his previous speeches on the issue, announcing that, come September, he will be introducing federal legislation which would abolish for-profit private prisons.

“When Congress reconvenes in September,” Sanders said, “I will be introducing legislation, which takes corporations out of profiteering from running jails.”

Tackling the problem of for-profit prisons is a bold move for a federal legislator, as the prison industry is a hugely profitable part of the U.S. economy. The top two private prison companies in the country, Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group, have a combined annual revenue of over $3 billion, much of which is spent lobbying elected officials to protect their bottom line. While some states, such as New York and Illinois, have enacted laws to ban the privatization of prisons, for-profit prisons have tragically remained a staple of the American criminal justice system, in large part due to the country’s skyrocketing incarceration rates made possible by the War on Drugs.

Bernie Sanders also indicated that the War on Drugs will be a focus of his campaign. “We want to deal with minimum sentencing,” Sanders said Tuesday, “Too many lives have been destroyed for non-violent issues. People that are sent to jail have police records. We have got to change that. Our job is to keep people out of jail, not in jail.” According to audience members, Bernie Sanders also said that his campaign will be addressing marijuana legalization in the weeks to come:

While we’ll have to wait for the platform’s release to get a clear picture of Bernie’s marijuana agenda, this announcement suggests that Sanders is looking to take the lead on the issue — something that most other presidential hopefuls have neglected to do thus far. Rather than directly discussing marijuana legalization as a policy, the Republican candidates have debated over the role of the federal government in imposing prohibition in states that have legalized the plant. While several GOP contenders, such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Carly Fiorina, have come out in favor of states’ right to regulate marijuana, others argue that federal prohibition should be enforced in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Sanders’ Democratic rivals, on the other hand, have stayed mostly silent on the issue during the course of their presidential campaigns.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Ted Cruz Evolves on Cannabis, Changes Position on Marijuana Legalization

Ted Cruz has proven to be a formidable challenger in the GOP primary, with the latest national polls putting him in the top tier of candidates. With the presidency in mind, Texas Senator Ted Cruz has “evolved” on cannabis and flipped his position on marijuana legalization, now supporting the right of states to legalize the plant and regulate it in spite of the federal government’s prohibitionist policies. Appearing at the conservative conference CPAC earlier this year, Ted Cruz made clear that he would not crack down on legal marijuana should his presidential bid be successful:

“I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the laboratories of democracy,’” the Texas senator said. “If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I personally don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

(via Forbes)

These remarks certainly bode well with drug policy reformers, but Ted Cruz has not always held these views on the issue. In January of last year, Ted Cruz spoke out against the Obama administration’s policy towards states with legalized marijuana. According to Ted Cruz, Barack Obama should have sought action through Congress to reform the federal enforcement of marijuana. While Sen. Cruz did not provide clues as to what reforms he would endorse, he complained that people in violation of federal law were not put in prison:

“Now, that may or may not be a good policy, but I would suggest that should concern anyone — it should even concern libertarians who support that policy outcome — because the idea that the president simply says criminal laws that are on the books, we’re going to ignore [them]. That is a very dangerous precedent.”

(via Reason)

Ted Cruz has come to reverse his position on this issue roughly a year later, joining a growing group of GOP leaders who have opted to tone down the prohibitionist rhetoric. Several other Republican candidates, such as Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Rand Paul, agree that the federal government should refrain from interfering with legal marijuana markets out of respect for the decision of states to regulate marijuana. Meanwhile, some candidates are still hoping to crack down on legalization, including Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.

The fact that Ted Cruz has changed his mind about legalization speaks volumes of the progress reformers are making in the United States. While only a third of self-identified Republicans believe marijuana should be legal, most Americans and young Republicans support legalization. In one year, Ted Cruz has gone from opposing to supporting states’ right to legalize marijuana. On one hand, this shows that reformers’ efforts have been successful in changing the minds of elected officials; on the other, it demonstrates how much time politicians can take in lagging behind changes in public opinion.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

 

Carly Fiorina Dislikes Marijuana, but Would Allow States to Legalize It

By all accounts, Carly Fiorina impressed many voters and pundits in the first (undercard) debate and has increased her standing among her primary competitors. Since she has moved up in the polls, the cannabis community needs to examine her record on marijuana policy. While she certainly remains a longshot for the presidential nod, she will likely be on the short-list of vice-presidential candidates for the eventual GOP nominee. Despite describing marijuana legalization as “a very bad idea,” Carly Fiorina said she respects the right of states to legalize the plant, as was done in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Fiorina, the former HP executive turned presidential candidate (the only woman running in the Republican primary), has an interesting perspective on marijuana policy, and while she holds some pretty anti-drug positions, she has also acknowledged the need for a new approach to the way drugs are treated in the United States:

“I believe in states’ rights. I would not as president of the United States enforce federal law in Colorado where Colorado voters have said they want to legalize marijuana,” Fiorina told the editorial board of The Des Moines Register in an interview. “As I think I’ve tried to convey, I don’t think that overreacting to illegal drug use is the answer.”

“I’m a states’ rights advocate. I respect Colorado’s right to do what they did. Okay? They are within their rights to legalize marijuana, and they are conducting an experiment that I hope the rest of the nation is looking closely at,” Fiorina said. “You’re asking my personal opinion. My personal opinion is the legalization of marijuana does not help us. Are they within their rights? Yes.”

(via Huffington Post)

On this issue, Carly Fiorina sides with the likes of Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Rand Paul, all Republican candidates that, while not openly enthusiastic about marijuana legalization, have expressed their support for states’ right to legalize marijuana in spite of federal prohibition. Other candidates, such as Chris Christie or Marco Rubio, disagree with Fiorina and have vowed to nullify state marijuana laws should they make it to the Oval Office.

Carly Fiorina’s drug policy views come in great part from her personal experiences. In 2009, Fiorina was diagnosed with breast cancer and declined to use medical marijuana as part of her treatment, having been told that “It is a chemically complex compound and we don’t understand how it interacts with other medicines, we don’t understand how it interacts with other things you’re doing in your life.”

While there are significant obstacles to conducting marijuana research in the United States, “prescribing information for […] medical marijuana does contain drug interaction information,” and numerous studies point to marijuana’s effectiveness and safety in the treatment of diseases like cancer. In fact, marijuana is one of the most researched plants in the world, having been the subject of over 20,000 scientific studies.

The issue of drugs is a personal one for Carly Fiorina, who six years ago lost her stepdaughter to drug addiction. While she openly opposes marijuana legalization and appears to hold generally anti-drug views, Fiorina’s statements also suggest she may be more compassionate to drug users after witnessing the real-life impact of American drug policies:

Still, Fiorina argued on Thursday for changes to criminal justice policies related to drug use and to a culture that often stigmatizes treatment.

“We know that we don’t spend enough money on the treatment of drug abuse. When you criminalize drug abuse, you’re actually not treating it. We had a daughter who died of addictions, so this lands very close to home for me,” Fiorina said, referring to her stepdaughter Lori, who died in 2009 at age 34. “When we are criminalizing abuse, it is a cost to society. We’re not helping the people who need help.”

(via Huffington Post)

As far as her position on marijuana legalization itself (as opposed to decriminalization or the conflict between federal and state laws), Carly Fiorina remains a supporter of prohibition. In 2010, when she was running for Governor in California, Fiorina opposed the state’s Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana and regulated it like alcohol. When the topic is brought up, Carly Fiorina seems intent on debunking the supposed equivalence between marijuana and alcohol, arguing that “we need to tell people the truth that marijuana is not like having a beer with your buddies.”

In this sense, Fiorina is not wrong: marijuana is much safer. Unlike alcohol, marijuana use is not associated with crimes of violence, and numerous studies suggest it is virtually impossible to die as a result of its consumption. According to recent studies, allowing people to purchase marijuana has been shown to reduce drug-related harm, including overdose deaths, and it has been suggested that opening up marijuana bars could help curb the societal impact of alcohol, which each year is responsible for “approximately 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost.”

 

The Oregonian to Hire “Experienced Cannabis Consumer” for Marijuana Reviews

Women smoking cannabis marijuana

The Oregonian, the largest newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, is looking to hire someone to try out marijuana products in the state and write about the experience two to four times a month. While the job may sound easy, the folks at The Oregonian make clear that they are looking for someone with high qualifications, namely that they “be an experienced cannabis consumer with deep knowledge about the variety of strains and products available on the Oregon market.”

The paper’s new marijuana critic would be tasked with reviewing strains and marijuana strains and products as well as keeping track of consumer trends in Oregon’s growing marijuana industry. As recreational sales will not be allowed until October 1st, The Oregonian requires that applicants be legally permitted to use marijuana for medical purposes. Additionally, the position is that of a freelance writer, as opposed to full-time employee, due to the fact that The Oregonian’s parent company, New York-based Advance Publications, mandates drug testing for its employees.”

The Oregonian follows in the footsteps of other publications, such as The Denver Post and Willamette Week, who have been early adopters of marijuana columns and product reviews as part of their coverage. While it is known to be a somewhat conservative newspaper, The Oregonian editorial board came out in support of marijuana legalization last year, officially endorsing Oregon’s Measure 91 which ended marijuana prohibition in the state.

If you are interested in applying for the position, The Oregonian invites you to “contact editor Bruce Hammond, brucehammond@oregonian.com to learn more.”

 

Marijuana Union Organizer Wanted by FBI on Corruption Charges

marijuana on money

A California medical marijuana union organizer is accused of bribery and union-rigging, according to an FBI complaint filed on Monday. According to the document, Dan Rush, a Bay Area organizer involved in unionizing medical marijuana workers, used his influence to manipulate unions’ decisions in exchange for bribes from stakeholders in the marijuana industry. Rush was indicted on charges of “labor union conflict of interest payments” and “honest services fraud,” and a federal warrant was issued for his arrest.

Prior to his indictment, Dan Rush was an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), which represents over a million workers in the United States and Canada. He was also involved in California’s medical marijuana politics, working on the regulation dispensaries in Los Angeles and serving on the board of directors of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. Known for helping Bay Area medical marijuana workers get unionized in 2010, Rush had made a name for himself as a “central figure” of California’s medical marijuana movement.

According to the FBI’s affidavit, Dan Rush used his influential position within the UFCW to rig the union’s processes in favor of medical marijuana dispensary owners. The document alleges that Rush received “payments of money or other things of value” on behalf of dispensary operators whose employees were members of the UFCW, and thus directly impacted by the union’s decisions. Invoking federal labor statutes, the FBI argues these payments constitute an unlawful conflict of interest, which Rush exploited to subvert unionization for personal gain.

The FBI’s document also suggests that Dan Rush used marijuana’s “grey market” status to get out of paying back a six-figure private loan. In 2010, Rush borrowed $600,000 from a marijuana dispensary owner so he could open his own medical marijuana business, but ended up using the money to pay off prior debts and gamble in casinos. Four years later, he claimed he wouldn’t be able to pay back the loan, arguing “that the original cash — stemming as it did from medical marijuana, pre-2010 — was unclean, and any attempt to recover the loan might not go so well.”

Instead, Rush offered services in return. Specifically, he offered to rig the union organizing process in Las Vegas, where Kaufman wanted to open a dispensary, against workers and for the employer in Kaufman’s favor.

(via SF Weekly)

Dan Rush faces 20 years in prison for the first charge of “labor union conflict of interest payments” and five years for the second charge of “honest services fraud.” These accusations are the result of a lengthy federal investigation that began as far back as 2010, when marijuana industry members tipped off the authorities, and involved “recorded telephone conversations and wires worn by witnesses including Marc Terbeek, Rush’s attorney who started cooperating with the FBI in January of this year, but may also be prosecuted.”

Following the release of these accusations of corruption, Dan Rush was removed from his position as board member for the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, and was reportedly fired from the UFCW. As of this writing, it is not known whether or not Dan Rush has been placed in custody. Seeing as Dan Rush has not issued a statement in response to his indictment, the FBI’s claims could very well turn out false. Should Dan Rush be guilty, however, this story would be remembered as a permanent stain on his history of fighting for the rights of marijuana workers, many of which labor without union representation.

The FBI’s affidavit, now unsealed, is available in its entirety online via Scribd.

Longtime California cannabis activist, Todd McCormick had this to say on his Facebook page:

The indictment of union representative Dan Rush exposes more than just the blatant corruption going on in the industry’s grab for retail permits, it also exposes the subtle corruption imposed by the city of Oakland in the way it regulates Cannabis clubs. Initially, Oakland allowed for 4 clubs and then expanded to 8, and while that sounds pretty progressive, I consider it pretty interesting and it seemingly rather unbalanced, that there are (as of October 12th, 2009) 1037 liquor licenses in the city of Oakland: 565 of which are in the hands of restaurants, bars and nightclubs, 146 in the hands of nonretail, think manufacturers and distributors, and then another 326 actual retail stores in a city of just just over 400,000.

The type of corruption exposed today emphasizes that we need to be fighting for equal rights, and not limited rights, because it should be as easy to open a Cannabis dispensary for medical use in compliance with state law, as it is to open an adult use liquor store in compliance with state law.

With a ratio of 1,037 liquor licenses to 8 Cannabis dispensary permits, I am not surprised there is corruption. Imagine if Oakland limited it’s liquor licenses to only 8: corruption would be even more rampant than it already is.

What Does Donald Trump Think of Marijuana Legalization?

Donald Trump

In more ways than one, Donald Trump is an unusual presidential candidate. Many people have tried to write off his unorthodox presidential campaign, but polling numbers seem to indicate that Trump has staying power, as he leads among GOP primary voters nationally and in the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Of course, cannabis law reformers want to know: What does Donald Trump think of marijuana legalization? Unlike his Republican rivals, he has no voting record, as he has never held public office. This gives us little insight as to what a Trump presidency would look like. What we are left with are his public statements and the decisions he took as a businessman, and these are quite revealing when it comes to marijuana policy.

First, based on his public statements, it’s clear that Trump doesn’t want to end the War on Drugs. In the 1990s, Donald Trump declared that legalization was the only way to win the Drug War, so he knows — or, at the very least, knew — that prohibition doesn’t work. Trump has since disavowed this position, however, and has publicly stated that he only supports allowing marijuana for medical purposes, suggesting that he is no more willing to scale back prohibition than any of the other GOP candidates.

Donald Trump’s decisions as a businessman also give some hints of his views on the issue. In 2006, press reports alleged that Tara Conner, a recently crowned Miss USA, had indulged in underage drinking and recreational drug use. While many media outlets speculated she would be stripped of her crown for this behavior, Donald Trump organized a press conference to announce that he had changed his mind and would not be removing Conner’s title:

“I’ve always been a believer in second chances. Tara is good person. Tara has tried hard. Tara is going to be given a second chance,” Trump announced at a press conference in New York on Tuesday. He also announced that Conner planned to enter rehab.

(via People.com)

While these anecdotes don’t paint a full picture of Donald Trump’s drug policy vision, they do provide some clues as to what his views are on the issue. If he were to become president, it seems unlikely that Trump will fight for significant reforms to American drug laws, but his approach to drugs in general could be more common-sense than the typical Republican drug warrior. He has stated that he supports medical marijuana 100%, but it’s unclear whether he would do anything to improve federal law regarding medical cannabis or if he would just stick with a states’ rights approach. Since Trump is not giving us much to work with as far as his views on marijuana, it is crucial for activists to bring the question to his attention early and often as it looks like his campaign has staying power for now.

Marco Rubio Joins Chris Christie, Vows to Repeal Marijuana Legalization

Don’t let his dry mouth fool you: Marco Rubio is no friend of marijuana legalization or even states’ ability to end cannabis prohibition within their own borders as he has joined Chris Christie in the Reefer Madness camp of using armed federal agents to override the will of the voters.

On Sunday, Florida Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio appeared on Meet The Press, where he shared his thoughts about states legalizing marijuana. Rubio began by explaining that he would be open to medical marijuana only if it went through the FDA process, following up with a vow to enforce federal law in states that have legalized it for recreational use:

Sen. Rubio: I’m not in favor of legalizing marijuana. I’m not. I never have.

Chuck Todd: In states that have, would you then use the federal government to supersede those state laws?

Sen. Rubio: Well, the federal government needs to enforce federal laws. I believe the federal government needs to enforce federal law, and I think this country already is paying a terrible and high price for the impact that alcohol has had on families, on addiction, on the destruction of marriages, homes, and businesses, and now we’re going to legalize an additional intoxicant. It’s very simple: when you say something is legal, well you’re basically telling people it isn’t that bad. It can’t be that bad, it wouldn’t be legal if it was.

(via NBC News)

His recent comments on marijuana policy seem consistent with his long-held prohibitionist convictions. Last year, Sen. Rubio said he thinks marijuana legalization “is not good for the country” and that the discussion ends at the conflict between federal and state laws: “Marijuana is illegal under federal law. That should be enforced.”

In January, Marco Rubio argued that while “states can make decisions about what laws they wish to apply within their own borders,” the states that choose to legalize “may well come to regret it.” Unfortunately for Marco Rubio, this hasn’t turned out to be true: after their state legalized marijuana in 2012, Colorado voters have not changed their minds on the issue. In fact, not only has the sky not fallen in Colorado, but the state has seen increased education funding, safer roads, decreased crime rates, and lower teen marijuana use since legalization has taken place.

Of all the Republican presidential candidates, Chris Christie has received the most attention for his anti-marijuana positions, and Marco Rubio seems intent on proving he can push for the drug war just as boldly.

While Rubio has tried to brand himself as a young, open-minded Republican, his views on marijuana may cost him the support of young Republican voters, most of which support legalizing the plant. Other candidates have incorporated these changes in public opinion into their platforms, such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or Jeb Bush, who have all made statements suggesting they support states’ right to legalize marijuana free of federal interference. The position of enforcing federal marijuana laws in states that have legalized cannabis cannot be sugarcoated. Sending in armed, federal law enforcement officers to arrest people abiding by state law is not a conservative principle; it is a radical position that is out-of-step with the American people and the Republican Party.