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.
Recently, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring submitted an op-ed to the Daily Press urging the state to "decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, address past convictions and start moving toward legal and regulated adult-use." Shortly after, lawmakers from both parties, including Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R), also voiced support for decriminalization.
The 2019 legislative session adjourned on February 23. While both legalization and decriminalization bills were introduced this past session, those bills were defeated in committee. With increasing support from elected officials, the focus now shifts to 2020.
Virginia is lagging behind the rest of the country on marijuana policy. Twenty-five states and Washington, D.C. have stopped jailing their residents for possession of modest amounts of marijuana, and 11 of those states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for individuals over 21.
Polling has also shown that almost eight of 10 Virginia residents support replacing criminal convictions for simple marijuana possession with a fine, and 62 percent favor ending marijuana prohibition altogether.
It is past time Virginia reform its marijuana laws. Please contact your lawmakers today, and forward this message to your family and friends in Virginia.
Idaho continues to lag behind other states on marijuana policy reform — it is the only remaining state in the country that does not acknowledge any form of medical marijuana under state law. However, lawmakers this year have proposed two bills to move the state in the right direction.
Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise) is cosponsoring legislation with Rep. Bryan Zollinger (R-Idaho Falls) to replace penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenses involving half an ounce or less with a civil infraction and fine of $250 or eight hours of community service. Currently, possession of three ounces or less is a misdemeanor punishable with up to a year in prison.
Reps. Caroline Nilsson Troy (R-Genesee) and Dorothy Moon (R-Stanley) have introduced a bill that would legalize hemp. Sen. Abby Lee (R-Fruitland) is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate. The move comes on the heels of passage of the most recent Farm Bill at the federal level, which removed hemp from Schedule I status and removes barriers to research and development of the crop. But despite the change in federal law, hemp remains classified as marijuana in Idaho. State police recently seized nearly 7,000 pounds of hemp from a truck driver traveling from Oregon to Colorado. The trucker now faces felony trafficking charges.
No bill to legalize medical marijuana has been introduced this year. Use our email tool to contact your state legislators and urge them to support the creation of a compassionate medical marijuana program. Newly-elected Gov. Brad Little recently opened the door to potentially supporting some kind of medical marijuana law.
Please get involved and contact your elected officials. Marijuana prohibition has failed in Idaho, and it's time to enact reform.
The Virginia General Assembly convened to kick off its 2019 legislative session on Wednesday, and several efforts are being made to reform the state's marijuana policies.
Two bills, HB2079 and SB997, have been introduced to decriminalize marijuana, making simple possession a civil fine of $50 for a first violation instead of an offense punishable by up to 30 days in jail. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also pushed for marijuana decriminalization in his State of the Commonwealth speech.
Twenty-three states and Washington, D.C. have stopped jailing their residents for possession of modest amounts of marijuana, and 10 of those states and D.C. have legalized marijuana for individuals over 21. Polling has shown that almost eight out of 10 Virginia residents support replacing criminal convictions with a fine, and 62 percent favor ending marijuana prohibition all together.
Contact your lawmakers today and urge them to make marijuana policy reform a priority in 2019. Then, share this message with your friends and family in Virginia.
Kentucky’s legislative session begins today, and marijuana policy reforms are already among the top issues being discussed in Frankfort. Lawmakers have indicated that they will soon be introducing several marijuana policy bills, including a medical cannabis bill, a decriminalization bill, and an adult-use legalization bill.
Although we support all of these bills, we believe the bill that has the strongest chance of passing in 2019 is the medical cannabis bill that will soon be introduced by Republican Reps. Jason Nemes and Diane St. Onge. A few months ago, Rep. Nemes confidently predicted that it would pass the legislature in 2019. However, we know that the effort will face strong opposition in the Senate, where Majority Leader Damon Thayer recently said, “I don't see the votes for medical marijuana yet.”
In order for this bill to pass, legislators will need to hear an outpouring of support from their constituents. After you write your elected officials, please share this message with your friends and family!