If attendees at the Iowa State Fair were looking for a candidate to end the federal government’s failed war on drugs, they would have few choices judging from the speeches at the Des Moines Register’s Political Soap Box.
Every four years, candidates for president flock to this quadrennial staple of the Iowa Caucuses for their 20 minutes before fairgoers for what is essentially presidential speed dating. One after the other over a few days, would-be nominees climb the stage and offer up their best opening statement to the Democratic base followed by questions during the balance of their 20 minutes before getting the hook. Everyone follows the same rules and faces a politically savvy crowd. Unlike debates, the Soap Box may be the only opportunity for voters to hear the candidates in succession — live, unfiltered, and without interruption — talk about what they feel are the most pressing issues facing the country.
As expected, voters heard about each candidate’s position on health care, climate change, gun control, abortion, and education/student debt, which were largely just echoes of the previous candidate’s position on those same issues. Stunningly, for drug policy reform advocates, a large majority of candidates failed to mention the harms associated with the drug war.
How is it members of Congress talk about the ‘opioid crisis’ on Capitol Hill, yet they fail to bring it up in Iowa? How is it that every candidate who is a member of Congress is either a sponsor or original cosponsor of a bill to end the federal prohibition of cannabis, yet all but one failed to mention it?
That one was Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. Gabbard has been a vocal champion and bill sponsor of marijuana policy reform and used her opening statement to talk about her efforts in Congress. Gabbard received the only ‘A’ from the Marijuana Policy Project among congressional incumbents for her opening statement and distinguished herself from the field. If fairgoers were looking for someone who will make ending reefer madness a priority, Gabbard likely won their vote.
Only two other top-tier candidates used their opening statements to talk about the drug war: former HUD Secretary Juan Castro and former Washington Governor Jay Inslee. Both devoted considerable time to the issue of ending the federal prohibition on marijuana specifically and received top marks along with Gabbard.
A surprising bright spot was former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who failed to mention his home state’s first-in-the-nation cannabis legalization law (led by MPP) during his opening remarks, but who received an ‘A’ on the Q&A portion for turning a minimum wage question into a full-throated endorsement of Colorado’s adult-use status, a law he originally opposed.
Pete Buttigieg received a ‘B’ for his brief mention of marijuana legalization during his response to a question on criminal justice reform, but like other candidates got a failing grade for his opening statement.
MPP continues to be disappointed that this life and death issue fails to be a question asked in the debates. And as much as we would like candidates to raise the issue during their opening or closing statements, that’s difficult to do in a minute. But as Hickenlooper proved, you don’t need a drug policy question to give a drug policy answer. Given 20 minutes of unfiltered, uninterrupted time before Democratic voters, it is hard to understand how issues like the opioid crisis, which claims a hundred lives each day, and the war on marijuana, which still results in over a half million arrests every year, fail to get a mention.
The field is getting narrowed down, and our most vocal supporters are dropping out of the race or are unlikely to qualify for future debates.
There will be other debates, but nothing like the Soap Box. (Sadly, the September debate failed to feature any substantive marijuana policy questions.) For the remaining candidates, there will be plenty of room on the stage, and as far as this drug policy reformer is concerned, there is plenty of room for improvement.
Don Murphy, Director of Federal Policies, Marijuana Policy Project, Washington, D.C.
Artful Dodgers: How the Candidates and Moderators Failed to Address Cannabis Policy at Another Debate
After a dozen hours of Democratic presidential candidate debates, there has been virtually no discussion about cannabis policy reform, leaving advocates sincerely disappointed. At a time when several pieces of cannabis legislation are pending in Congress, the absence of any cannabis-focused discussion is even more frustrating. Any list of issues important to Democratic primary voters would have to include not only the broad topic of criminal justice reform, but also the more narrow issue of cannabis policy.
Debate moderators have the opportunity and the responsibility to question the candidates on the issues facing the United States and its people. Federal cannabis prohibition happens to be one of these issues — yet there has not been one direct question focused on this. A recent poll found that legalizing cannabis is more popular than free college tuition, a $15 minimum wage, gun control, or a universal basic income. But you wouldn’t know it based on the questions posed to candidates during the debates.
Is it out of ignorance that debate moderators fail to ask about cannabis policy reform, or is it something worse? Do they think the topic is just not serious enough to ask about? Regardless, the drug war is an issue many viewers care about, evidenced by the fact that on the rare occasion when the topic is broached, it almost always comes from one of the network’s social media partners. Yet, there’s apparently time to question Cory Booker about his vegan diet. Is veganism resulting in more than half a million arrests per year? Are there currently bills in Congress to end a failed policy on vegan prohibition? How about a policy question that’s at the forefront of people’s minds — one related to the fact that hundreds of thousands of individuals are still being criminalized for using a substance that is safer than alcohol?
Not only have the moderators let us down by leaving cannabis out of the discussion, the candidates have too. Rarely has a candidate taken the opportunity to inject the issue of cannabis reform into a tangential topic such as criminal justice reform or racism. While the candidates may sound good discussing what they will do if elected president, many are having problems squaring the future with their past. During the last debate, the two biggest dodgers were Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
Harris was questioned about her current support for legalization despite having prosecuted cannabis offenses during her time as California attorney general. She refused to directly answer the question, and the moderators, in turn, failed to dig deeper.
The most pressing question the Marijuana Policy Project wants an answer to and wants the public to hear is, “what role are you playing in the marijuana policy reform debate in your state and/or at the federal level, and how has your position evolved over time?” Harris had the opportunity to respond to just that but gave us nothing. Harris’ lack of response is unsatisfying, but it’s not too surprising considering Harris has also refused to answer questions regarding her vote on California’s Prop 64, the successful legalization initiative coordinated by a coalition of groups, including MPP.
Similar to MPP’s question for the candidates, a question from the Drug Policy Alliance focuses specifically on one candidate, asking, “what would you do differently as Biden in the 90s?” While Vice President Biden is the only candidate who mentioned the word “marijuana” during the most recent debate, his position showed that he is still not aligned with the majority of Americans who support legalization. Instead, he suggested that cannabis offenses should be classified as misdemeanors, many of which carry hefty fines and jail time. This was a perfect opportunity for the other candidates to step up and voice their support and reasoning for legalizing cannabis, but all we heard was silence. While many others on the stage have called for both ending federal prohibition and broader criminal justice reform, they failed to vocalize it, thereby missing a big opportunity.
There is no excuse for the lack of cannabis-focused discussion on the debate stage during the 2020 presidential race. It’s a bipartisan issue with nearly 70% support from the American public. It’s an issue that the president and Congress have the power to solve. It’s an issue that a majority of Americans want resolved. And most crucially, it’s an issue that is still causing harm to many of our citizens. We expect more questions, and the American people deserve more answers.
Don Murphy, Marijuana Policy Project, Director of Federal Policies
Learn where candidates stand on marijuana policy before you vote on Tuesday, November 6!
West Virginia’s general election will take place next Tuesday, November 6. The outcome of state legislative races will be critical in determining the future of marijuana policy in West Virginia. There are also strong contrasts between the candidates in races for U.S Congress:
• State Sen. Richard Ojeda (D), who championed West Virginia’s medical cannabis bill and strongly supports federal reforms, is running for an open Congressional seat in District 3. His opponent, Del. Carol Miller (R), voted for the medical cannabis bill, but she also voted to dramatically restrict it, and she won’t commit to supporting federal medical cannabis legislation.
• District 1 candidate Kendra Fershee (D) has expressed strong support for medical cannabis. Her opponent, incumbent Rep. David McKinley (R), has not supported marijuana policy reforms.
• In District 2, incumbent Rep. Alex Mooney (R) has voted to protect state medical cannabis programs from federal interference. His opponent, Talley Sergent (D), has expressed strong support for medical cannabis.
Before you go to the polls, please take time to review MPP’s voter guide, which includes survey responses, votes cast by incumbent legislators, and candidates’ public statements.
After you read our West Virginia voter guide, please share it with your friends and remind them that next Tuesday is Election Day!
The Minnesota Campaign for Full Legalization (MCFL) has put together a state legislative voter guide with results of their candidate survey and incumbents voting records. (Note that an F grade may not mean the candidate is opposed; they may simply not have responded to the survey.)
Here are a handful of competitive races where candidates differ on marijuana prohibition:
• House District 3A (International Falls): Incumbent Rob Ecklund (DFL) is supportive of legalizing and regulating cannabis and also cosponsored marijuana legalization/regulation bills, HF 926 and HF 4541. Challenger Randy Goutermont (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey.
• House District 11A (Moose Lake, Barnum, Scanlon): Mike Sundin (DFL) cosponsored bills to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults’ use, HF 926 and HF 4541. Challenger Jeff Dotseth (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey.
• House District 19A (North Mankato): Jeff Brand (DFL) is supportive of legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults’ use, while Kim Spears (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey. There is no incumbent in the district.
• House District 37A (Spring Lake Park): Incumbent Erin Koegel (DFL) expressed support for legalizing and regulating marijuana and also cosponsored a marijuana legalization and regulation bill, HF 2714. Challenger Anthony Wilder (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey.
• House District 56A (Savage): Challenger Hunter Cantrell (DFL) supports legalizing and regulating marijuana, while incumbent Drew Christensen (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey.
• House District 57B (Rosemount): Challenger John Huot (DFL) supports legalizing and regulating marijuana, while incumbent Anna Wills (R) did not respond to MCFL’s survey.
Meanwhile, in the gubernatorial race, Tim Walz (D) is supportive of legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults’ use, while Jeff Johnson (D) opposes legalization but supports medical marijuana.
Please check out MCFL’s voter guide, forward this to your network in Minnesota, and be sure to get out and vote!
The Iowa general election is fast approaching. The deadline to register online is October 27. You can also register and vote on Election Day!
Here’s a look at where gubernatorial candidates stand on marijuana reform: Fred Hubbell (D) is supportive of expanding medical marijuana, while Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) said she “would support the process that’s already in place” that allows a board to make certain expansions to the existing low-THC program. You can find more information on Iowa’s current marijuana policies here.
For more information on voting, including registration and where you can cast your ballot, check out the state’s website.
Please forward this to your friends and family in Iowa, and be sure to vote!
Find out where N.H. candidates stand on marijuana policy, then help good candidates win on Tuesday, November 6!
Last week, Gov. Chris Sununu doubled down on his opposition to marijuana legalization. This is a disappointing development, especially in light of the fact that the legalization study commission’s report is set to be completed next week. Gov. Sununu signed the bill that created the study commission, so it’s unfortunate that he couldn’t wait for its report before taking a firm position on the issue.
Sununu’s general election opponents — Molly Kelly (D) and Jilletta Jarvis (L) — both support legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis for adults’ use. However, Sununu continues to lead in the polls, and it is rare for a first-term governor to lose a re-election bid in New Hampshire.
If Sununu wins on November 6, it will be difficult to pass a legalization bill in 2019, but that doesn’t mean it will be impossible. If enough legislators support ending marijuana prohibition, it will be possible to override a potential veto with a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
The outcome of state Senate races will be especially critical for our success in the next legislative session, and those contests are often determined by a very small number of votes. If you are able to volunteer to help a good Senate candidate win in your area, please consider doing so!
Please share this information with your family and friends. Then, please do what you can to help good candidates win in November!
The latest Goucher poll shows that 62% of Marylanders “support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.” Unfortunately, Maryland’s lawmakers have lagged behind the public on this issue — but this could change in November’s election. If you are a Maryland voter, please let the candidates in your district know that this issue is important to you. (And don’t forget to check out the Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition’s Voter Guide here.)
If you are interested in hearing more about MPP’s work — and meeting our new executive director, Steven Hawkins — please consider attending the Spark! Maryland networking event on October 4 at 6:30 p.m. at The Reserve at Two Rivers, 4105 Mountain Road, Pasadena, MD 21122. You can purchase tickets here.
Marylanders are ready to join the eight other states that have legalized and regulated marijuana for adults 21 and older. Click here to ask the people who want to represent you in the General Assembly if they’re ready too.
Find out where N.H. candidates stand on marijuana policy, then help good candidates win on Nov. 6!
Less than seven weeks remain until the November 6 general election. The winners will have the power to determine New Hampshire’s marijuana policies for the next two years, so it is critically important for supporters of cannabis legalization to become informed and active participants in this year’s election.
As our voter guide explains, there are many strong contrasts between candidates’ positions on marijuana policy. In the race for governor, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has not yet been convinced to support legalization, but Molly Kelly (D) and Jilletta Jarvis (L) have both taken clear positions in support.
The outcome of state Senate races will also be critical for our success, and those contests are often determined by a very small number of votes. If you are able to volunteer to help a good Senate candidate win in your area, please consider doing so. This could end up making a big difference in November!
Please share this information with your family and friends. Then, please do what you can to help good candidates win in November!