Representatives within the Democratic National Committee have approved provisions specific to marijuana law reform as part of the party’s 2016 platform.
A 15-person decision-making panel unanimously voted to adopt the following language:
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research to be done on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact, with arrest rates for marijuana possession among African-Americans far outstripping arrest rates among whites despite similar usage rates.”
Though the language falls well short of calling for an end to federal cannabis prohibition, it nonetheless marks a stark contrast between the two major political parties.
Last week, Republican leaders in Congress quashed a number of proposed marijuana law reforms. Specifically, provisions previously voted on by Congress to expand medical cannabis access to eligible military veterans were removed by leadership during the conference committee process and earlier there was a decision to deny members the opportunity to vote on a Democrat-sponsored amendment that sought to permit banks and other financial institutions to engage in relationships with state-compliant marijuana businesses.
With many Congressional Republicans actively discouraging marijuana related reforms at the federal level, it’s motivating to see Democrats pro-actively finding ways to include the need for cannabis policy reform in the party’s national conversation.
Former Maryland Governor and current democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley yesterday held a marijuana legalization listening session in Denver, Colorado. Hoping to ignite progressive voters and to differentiate himself from the two leading democratic candidates, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, O’Malley is emphasizing marijuana law reform as a key plank of his campaign.
O’Malley met in Denver with leading marijuana law reform activists, and cannabis industry leaders, acknowledging, “If you talk to young Americans under 30 there is a growing consensus that marijuana should be treated more akin to alcohol than to other substances.” He pledged, if elected President, to use his executive authority to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.
“While O’Malley’s pledge is a step in the right direction, NORML believes in descheduling cannabis, not rescheduling cannabis. Cocaine, for instance, is a Schedule II controlled substance under federal law, as is methamphetamine. NORML is not of the belief that an ideal public policy is to cease treating marijuana like heroin (Schedule I) but rather to treat it like cocaine (Schedule II).” As NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano recently told the Associated Press, “Rather, we would prefer to see cannabis classified and regulated in a manner that more closely resembles alcohol or tobacco, neither substance of which is classified in any category under the CSA.”
O’Malley’s announcement yesterday came on the heels of recent, marijuana-specific comments by Clinton and Sanders.
On Monday, at a campaign stop in Luther College, Clinton responded to a question on whether or not she would support marijuana legalization as President. She answered, “I would support states and localities that are experimenting with this.”
In an interview with Little Village, a public affairs program on PATV in Iowa City, Sanders also pledged non-governmental interference in state marijuana laws, commenting, “What the federal government can do is say to the state of Colorado that if you choose to vote to legalize marijuana, we will allow you to do that without restrictions.”
Sanders also pledged to amend federal banking laws to permit state-licensed business to operate like any other legal entity, “In Colorado people who run marijuana shops can’t put their money in banks,” he said. “That’s a violation of federal law. So I think there are things that the federal government can do that would make it easier for states that want to go in that direction to be able to do so.” In addition, he reiterated his position in favor of medical marijuana and decriminalization, a policy he supported in his home state of Vermont.
However, when asked about full legalization, Sanders continues to be noncommittal, responding, “We’re exploring the pluses and minuses — of which there are both — of moving more aggressively on that issue. It is a very important issue. We’re watching what Colorado is doing, and we’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks and months.”
The comments made by all three Democratic candidates for president, coupled with the marijuana related question aimed at the Republican candidates in the most recent Republican primary debate, highlight the new, elevated role marijuana law reform is playing in the election of our next President of the United States. In previous years, candidates’ largely ignored or belittled the issue. But this election that won’t suffice. Voters are demanding clear answers from candidates on what the federal government should do in relation to marijuana policy and they are demanding a change from business as usual.
At nearly the two and half hour mark in tonight’s marathon Republican debate on CNN Jake Tapper directed a question from the online audience, indicating it was very popular, to Senator Rand Paul regarding Colorado and other states having recently legalized marijuana by popular vote on binding initiatives, that if elected president of the US Governor Chris Christie recently said ‘the people of Colorado should enjoy their pot now because if elected by 2017 I’ll be going after them to shut down’, imploring Senator Paul to respond to Christie’s clear threat to state autonomy in states like Colorado (along with Alaska, Oregon and Washington too).
Senator Paul indicated that he supports the 10th Amendment and states rights, that the drug war has racist outcomes, that rehabilitation is preferable to incarceration, expanding drug courts, indicated the war on drugs is a failure, and that individuals on the stage are hypocrites for their youthful marijuana use. Governor Jeb Bush apparently took that to mean him…where he extolled the virtues of Florida’s drug courts. Paul retorted that Bush didn’t support medical access to marijuana. Bush claimed that he did, but only the way the legislature in Florida recently passed restrictive laws (‘Not Colorado-like laws’), that he didn’t support the 2014 effort to pass medical marijuana laws via a ballot initiative and that he voted against it.
Senator Paul drilled Bush that he didn’t really support medical marijuana or states’ rights.
Bush claimed that if voters in Colorado wanted different marijuana laws he wouldn’t necessarily interfere.
The next two candidates took the opportunity to try to have it both ways, first with Christie extolling New Jersey’s recently passed ‘rehabilitation over incarceration’ legislation and that the “war on drugs is largely a failure”, but, non-sensibly, then goes on to bluster and re-affirm his virulent opposition to marijuana legalization, claiming marijuana is a gateway drug (which simply is not supported by science or data). He exclaimed to Paul ‘if you want marijuana legalized, pass a law in Congress’.
Then former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina took the unsolicited opportunity to gratuitously mention her son’s addiction and death from drug overdose (self-evidently not from marijuana), that marijuana is a gateway drug, is way more potent (‘Then when Jeb Bush smoked it”)…but, then, incongruously, she insisted that the war on drugs is a failure, prisons are overcrowded and that “what we’re doing is not working”.
Senator Paul attacked Christie for not truly supporting the 1oth Amendment allowing states autonomy from the federal government, that, further, if president Christie would enforce federal laws against state medical cannabis patients, including children who’re recommended medical marijuana use by physicians.
Distilled: Three of the Republican candidates indicated the war on drugs is a failure (Paul, Fiorina and Christie), one candidate (Bush) indicated that the federal government has an important role to play against drug use.
One candidate supported medical access to marijuana and states rights (Paul); one candidate claimed to support states rights and limited access to medical marijuana (Bush); one candidate supported medical access to marijuana, but would use federal law to stop states from deviating from federal policies they no longer support (Christie) and a candidate will use the death of their child to advance inaccurate and unscientific claims–while at the same time wanting credit for identifying the problems that contributed to their son’s plight, while making no indication how if at all they’d allow states autonomy to make policy decisions independent of the centralized federal government (Fiorina).
Guest Post by Jason Miller, Houston NORMLThe 2014 Texas GOP Convention wrapped up Saturday, June 7th, after a long week of debate and testimony concerning medical marijuana. Supporters of marijuana reform, including several members of RAMP (Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition) along with other medical marijuana advocates, including parents, veterans, and medical doctors, gave testimony in favor of an amendment to the platform in support of allowing Texans access to medical cannabis.
It seemed like a short-lived victory when the Temporary Platform Committee passed the amendment after listening to emotional testimony from those whose loved ones could benefit or have benefited from medical cannabis. The Chairman of the committee broke the tie and the amendment passed by a 15-14 vote. In addition, a plank supporting Hemp Cultivation passed the committee and made it into the final platform.
The following day, the Permanent Platform Committee met and voted on the medical marijuana amendment. This was the day I arrived at the convention after driving up to Fort Worth from Houston. My second time attending the Texas GOP Convention as a delegate, I was excited to hear about what was happening in the committees and was eager to help.
Rewind to August 2013 when I first met Ann Lee. After being involved with NORML for the past 4 years as a corporate sponsor to the legal seminars in Aspen and Key West, I had heard of Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University, but I didn’t know the full extent of his story until hearing it from his mother. Ann Lee was visiting a group in Houston that several of my friends help organize called Liberty on the Rocks. Along with a representative from Houston NORML, originally co-founded by Richard Lee, Ann Lee spoke to us and her words resonated.
She told us about growing up in Louisiana during segregation (Ann Lee is in her mid-eighties, she’s even older than marijuana prohibition itself), and she spoke of how unfairly people were treated and how unfairly minorities are treated today due to the enforcement of marijuana prohibition. She told us about her 5 sons, including educator and entrepreneur Richard Lee, who was injured in a workplace accident, leaving him in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. She told us about being a Republican activist since the 1970s and how she co-founded the group “Women for Reagan” in 1983, the year I was born. She told us about her husband, Bob Lee, and how they had initially reacted when Richard told them he uses medical marijuana to help with his muscle spasticity and neuropathic pain.Ann and Bob Lee founded RAMP in 2012. After much reflection, they had reached the conclusion that prohibition of marijuana is directly opposed to all of their Republican values. I was immediately intrigued upon learning about this. My interest in both party politics and marijuana policy were now being fused together by this idea. I immediately approached Ann and started asking her about RAMP. She handed me a little brochure with the Republican logo with three pot leaves instead of stars. My first thought was “OK, this organization really needs a new logo.”
Fast-forward to 2014, new logo, website, social media, and a network of young people helping Ann Lee with RAMP. We’re ready to make an impact. We’ve formed a team, including John Baucum, President of Houston Young Republicans. We’d worked a great deal on networking and outreach, held our inaugural meeting, and conducted several interviews with news media. We knew a lot of people in Houston’s conservative scene and we knew many of them would be serving as GOP delegates.
Upon my arrival to the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth on Thursday, I knew that I had a mission. The vote on the medical marijuana amendment was to take place later this day and the outcome was going to depend heavily upon how the Permanent Platform Committee was to shape up. Our strategy was to try to push anyone off the committee who voted against us and replace them with someone who is supportive.
In my Senate District, our platform committee representative had voted against medical marijuana. So I started talking to people. I thought about who would make a good candidate and one person came to mind, a Military Veteran, an author, and a frequent lecturer on conservative issues. Although medical marijuana was not the primary issue, I knew this person would be supportive. At this point there’s a lot of whispering going on in the hallways, people pulling each other aside and talking under their breath. I knew that a good number of people would unite behind this candidate, and I was able to feel confident in my ability to “whip the votes.”
Time was of the essence. I ran across the street to the Omni Hotel and printed up flyers, highlighting the candidate’s qualifications. After some trouble with the printer, I made it back to the convention just in time. I walked into our SD Caucus and handed everyone the flyers. There were two other candidates in the race for platform committee. Although my preferred candidate did not win, we pulled about 30% of the vote and made an impact on the outcome of the race.
Immediately after the SD Caucus, the Permanent Platform Committee met and the moment of truth was upon us. There was a great deal of commotion outside the meeting room because it wasn’t big enough to seat everyone. People were outside the door yelling for them to relocate the meeting to a larger space. Some of the committee members had changed due the immigration plank of the platform, which was the most contentious issue up for debate. I tried to peer into the room to see who was on the committee. I was curious to find out any of our people were elected to the committee in other senate districts, but I assumed they didn’t have any better luck than I did.The medical cannabis amendment failed. Some of the committee members, who supported the amendment the day before ended up changing their vote. This may have been due to our opposition whipping the votes against us. However, an additional amendment supporting “research into the medical efficacy of cannabis” was introduced by a member of the committee and passed. Unfortunately, our opposition filed a ‘minority report’ signed by 9 members of the committee in support of striking this language from the platform.
Perhaps the most amazing revelation was that another ‘minority report’ was filed, signed by 8 members of the committee, in support of adding the original medical cannabis amendment back into the platform. This was huge. A clear message was sent that support for medical cannabis is alive and well in the Texas GOP. We considered this to be a major victory because the issue would be up for debate during the general session on Saturday when the platform is adopted by the entire delegation.
On Friday morning, we arrived at the Fort Worth Convention Center at 6:00am, with 2000 RAMP newsletters in hand. Volunteers, including founders of the group MAMMA (Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism) Thalia Michelle and Amy Lou Falwell, helped line seats with our literature. This day, we decided to forget about the platform and the stress, it’s time to network, educate people about medical cannabis, conduct interviews with media, and talk to as many elected officials as we can.On Saturday morning, several of us arrived early to get spots near each of the four microphones in the general convention arena. We wanted to make sure we were able to testify in support of medical cannabis. As the platform adoption process started, medical cannabis was the first topic up for debate. Our minority report in support of adding the amendment back in to the platform was introduced from the stage.
Ann Lee spoke in favor of this amendment and told her story. She told the delegation about her son Richard and his injury. She used her entire 5 minutes of testimony and made a very clear point that garnered a great deal of applause, “Why should the federal government be able to prevent us from using a natural medicine that is clearly beneficial to sick people?”
One person spoke in opposition to the amendment and tried to convince the delegation that Marinol and medical marijuana are the same thing, which is clearly false.
Dr. Teryn Driver, a delegate from League City, made an emotional argument about children suffering from epilepsy and passionately educated the delegation about Cannibidiol (CBD).
A motion was made to end debate and the crowd voted in favor of it. (The delegation will typically always vote in favor of anything that moves the process along faster). We then voted on adding the medical marijuana amendment back into the platform and it failed. We expected this to happen.
The next item of business is the ‘minority report’ striking the support for research into the medical efficacy of cannabis from the platform. Zoe Russell, the assistant executive director for RAMP, spoke in opposition to striking this language; she testified that Texas prides itself on medical innovation and that getting our federal government out of the way of promising research will be a tremendous benefit to our medical community. She pointed out that Republicans don’t like federal interference in our healthcare choices and that should include the ability to conduct medical research. Her remarks were met with cheers and applause.
Immediately following Zoe’s testimony, debate was cut off. A vote was taken, but it wasn’t clear. After a bit of demagoguery by the Chairman and a clarification that a no vote would leave the language in the platform, the vote was taken again. It was very close, but the yes votes won and the language supporting research of medical cannabis was stricken from the platform.Our opposition’s only real strategy was to cut off testimony as quickly as possible. They don’t want the delegation to hear our message. They don’t want any discussion about changing these laws. But we’re having the discussion. We’re winning over the hearts of minds of people, and we had been doing it all week. After the convention ended, I made my way down the road about 4 blocks to the Texas Regional NORML Conference. Exhausted, I dragged myself into the conference and took a seat.
Overall, the Texas GOP Convention was a huge success. We’re furthering the discussion about marijuana reform among Republicans and we’re having fun in the process. My time spent in Fort Worth was well worth it. I learned a lot about politics and procedure, activism and how to communicate and network with people. We met supporters from all over the state and we expanded our network. We’re now gearing up for the 2015 legislative session and we’re determined to legalize marijuana in the great state of Texas.
It ain’t gonna legalize itself.
Stay up to date on NORML Houston’s activities by following them on Facebook here.
They say things are bigger in Texas and, according to new survey data just released by Public Policy Polling, that includes support for marijuana law reform.
PPP’s polling found that 58% of Texans support regulating marijuana like alcohol and only 38% were opposed. This change in policy was supported by 59% of women, 70% of Democrats, 57% of Independents, a majority of all racial demographics, and a majority of all age demographics.
The survey also reported that 58% of Texans supported medical marijuana and 61% supported the decriminalization of possession of an ounce or less.
You can read the full survey here.
With a high profile governor’s race shaping up between Senator Wendy Davis, the only declared
Democrat, and a Republican challenger (Attorney General Abbot seems to be leading in current polls) the time is ripe to make marijuana law reform a major issue in America’s second most populated state.
TEXANS: You can contact the announced candidates for Texas governor by clicking on their links below. Send them a quick message telling them:
“Public Policy Polling found that 58% of Texans support ending our costly war on marijuana and replacing it with a system of regulation similar to how we deal with alcohol. This majority support was spread across all age and ethnic demographics. It is time we consider a new approach to marijuana. As a Texas voter, I am very concerned with your position on the issues of marijuana law reform and would greatly appreciate if you could inform me of your stance on the taxation and regulation of marijuana, as well as allowing for its medical use and decriminalization of personal possession.”
State Senator Wendy Davis
(If you receive a response please forward it to email@example.com)
Miriam Martinez (posted in response to a question on her Facebook page): “I support the medical use of marijuana and decriminalization of personal possession.”