Cannabis reform is one of the hot topics in the upcoming 2020 elections. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is the Democratic representative for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District and one of the party’s presidential hopefuls. Since 2017, Rep. Gabbard has introduced multiple bills to remove cannabis from Schedule 1, including the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act and the Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act to end federal cannabis prohibition and provide clemency to those affected by the war on drugs.
Rep. Gabbard will be speaking via Skype at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, February 6-7.
Cannabis Now: What do you believe to be the biggest hurdle preventing the end of federal cannabis prohibition?
Rep. Gabbard: Simply a lack of political will. In 2017, I introduced the first-ever bipartisan bill that would end the federal prohibition of marijuana by removing it from the Controlled Substances Act. Unfortunately, Congressional leadership at the time blocked us from getting a hearing on this important legislation, despite having nearly 10 percent of the Members of the House as co-sponsors and growing support from the public. But times have changed.
We are seeing more bipartisan support for an end to prohibition, as well as other related marijuana bills on the floor. 61 percent of Americans support legalization, and 31 states have legalized cannabis. My Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act passed the House Judiciary Committee with a bipartisan 24-10 vote, and now awaits consideration by the full House.
Why is ending federal cannabis prohibition so important to you?
Our archaic marijuana policies — based on stigma and outdated myths — have been used to wage a failed war on drugs. The so-called “War on Drugs” has exhausted our law enforcement resources, burdened our criminal justice system, decimated communities, fractured families, and turned everyday Americans into criminals. Over-criminalization and mass incarceration have become the new norm. And rather than treating addiction to opioids and other drugs as a healthcare issue, we arrest and jail those who need help.
Our current criminal justice system favors the rich and powerful and punishes the poor putting people in prison for smoking marijuana, while allowing corporations like Purdue Pharma, who are responsible for the opioid-related deaths of thousands of people, to walk away scot-free with their coffers full. We have a system that is allowing Big Pharma to aggressively push these highly addictive drugs, knowing how addictive they are, we have doctors who are not being held accountable for their irresponsible treatment. By decriminalizing marijuana and helping addicts rather than jailing them, we will create a fairer, more ethical criminal justice system and cut our prison populations by 50 percent.
In Congress, I have introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would remove marijuana from the Federal Controlled Substances list and allow states the freedom to regulate marijuana without federal interference. I have also introduced The Marijuana Data Collection Act, which would study the effects of state legalized medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana programs on state revenues, public health, substance abuse and opioids, criminal justice and employment.
I’ve introduced the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act, which would hold big pharma accountable for distributing and pushing these highly addictive drugs on the American people. I have also cosponsored legislation to work with communities to respond to this devastating opioid crisis by providing grants, education, outreach, prevention, and treatment services.
As President, I will work to end the present hypocritical drug policies that hurt rather than help the American people and reward the reckless greed of Big Pharma and the drug lobby. We must end the failed war on drugs and end the federal marijuana prohibition, pardon those convicted of minor possession charges and expunge past records. And we need to reform our drug laws and treat drug addiction as a healthcare issue, not a criminal justice issue.
What inspired you to lead the charge for reintroducing H.R.1588 – Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019?
Our archaic and outdated marijuana laws are turning everyday Americans into criminals. Every day, the economic and social impacts of marijuana prohibition are having devastating effects on communities across the country.
Millions of Americans have fallen victim to the failed War on Drugs, tearing families apart, disproportionately harming minority communities, and overcrowding an already strained prison system. Marijuana use is a personal choice and should not be a criminal act. For many years I have worked to end the marijuana prohibition and am proud to push this legislation forward that will begin to right the wrongs of the past and invest in communities who have been most harmed.
We must pass the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act to ensure that marijuana consumers and state-licensed marijuana businesses are protected from undue federal interference. It will help reduce the strain on our criminal justice system, amend federal law to agree with cannabis’ changing cultural status, recognize the plant’s therapeutic benefits, and reduce contradictions and confusion between federal and state marijuana laws.
Hawaii will become the 26th state to decriminalize possession of cannabis on January 11, 2020. What’s your position on legalizing recreational use in the state?
Momentum is headed in the right direction. I think that we are only going to see more progress being made. There are some incremental cannabis reforms in the state, such as a bill that lawmakers approved last year to add opioid addiction as a medical marijuana qualifying condition, however, this was vetoed by Governor David Ige. Even in a state like Hawaii, if you look back to the governor’s statements about why he vetoed that bill, there are still a lot of myths and outdated information and stigma that are being used as excuses to not push forward these very impactful policy changes.
So that is one of the main reasons that is spurring my bill, the Marijuana Data Collection Act, to be able to provide this from the National Academy of Sciences as an undisputed collection of data and studies saying you can’t dispute this. The purpose of this legislation is to collect and synthesize relevant data and to generate a federally recognized, neutral report regarding the impact of statewide marijuana legalization schemes. Such a report will assure that federal discussions and policies specific to this issue are based upon the best and most reliable evidence available at this time. We can’t afford to wait given the devastating negative impact it is having on the people of this country.
As a retired combat veteran, what are your thoughts on veterans not having access to cannabis through the VA?
Many don’t realize that even in states where cannabis has been legalized, veterans are still prohibited from accessing it through their VA medical benefits. That’s one reason why I introduced the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act to remove marijuana from the Federal Controlled Substances list. There are so many states that show and prove in their statistics that for those who have legalized medical cannabis, or adult-use cannabis, there has been a direct correlated drop in opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths. In Hawaii, in 2018, there was overwhelming bipartisan support for a bill that was passed that would allow those who are addicted to opioids to qualify for medical cannabis in our state. The governor vetoed this bill that passed with overwhelming support. The reason that he gave was “there’s just no data to prove that medical cannabis will help someone who is addicted to opioids”. I got so angry because I know people whose lives have been saved because they were able to get off of those opioids and they had access to medical cannabis, they found a path towards recovery and towards a new lease on life.
At the federal level, we’ve got to do our job to deschedule marijuana completely, but also see that same reflection in the laws that are being passed in our states. I’ve introduced legislation in Congress to support research within the VA called the Marijuana Data Collection Act that commissions the National Academy of Science, a neutral federal agency, to collect data and information from states like Hawaii and Nevada and California and Colorado and others that have passed laws to legalize cannabis in one level or another to provide an undisputed set of facts, statistics, and information that would counter the misinformation and myths that are so often used to strike down laws that would help open up access to medical cannabis. It is our nation’s responsibility to ensure that our veterans receive the care, services, and benefits they’ve earned and deserve — and that includes the ability to choose cannabis as a treatment instead of addictive opioids.
What is your position on reform for those most damaged by the war on drugs and prohibition?
We need to provide clemency and pardon those who have been unfairly sentenced due to archaic marijuana policies, especially to those who have only been convicted of minor possession charges. As President, I will use clemency to release 25,000 people during my first term, and reform our criminal justice system so that no American will have to go through years in prison and have their family torn apart for simply possessing or smoking marijuana. I will reform mandatory minimum sentencing, the unfair cash bail system, implement sentencing reforms, improve prosecutor training, re-classify drugs with proven medicinal benefits, and remove marijuana from the Federal Controlled Substances list.
Our archaic marijuana policies disproportionately affect communities of color, as does our entire criminal justice system. In Congress, I have introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana. I am also a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Justice Act of 2019, which reforms unjust federal marijuana laws, and empowers minority communities that have been the most impacted by this failed War on Drugs.
The Marijuana Justice Act of 2019 removes marijuana and THC from Schedule I drugs, eliminates criminal penalties for those who import, export, manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana. It also provides grants to reinvest in those communities who have been most largely impacted by the war on drugs — in particular, communities of color. These grants provide job training, health education services, covering expenses related to expungement of convictions, investing in community centers and other public services.
As President, I will grant clemency and expunge records of those who have been unfairly sentenced by marijuana laws, invest in and redress communities of color who have been indiscriminately impacted by the War on Drugs, and treat addiction as the public health crisis that it is, not a criminal justice issue.
To hear Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and other industry leaders share their thoughts about domestic and international cannabis industry opportunities, while networking with entrepreneurs and lawmakers from all over the world, make sure you’re at the International Cannabis Business Conference in San Francisco, February 6-7.
TELL US, what do you think of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s cannabis policies?