Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for president (it's hard to keep track of them all), and like almost every Democrat shoehorned into the race, she wants to legalize pot.
But the Democrat from Hawaii thinks her legalization strategy will stand out.
“This is the only bipartisan bill that ends the federal marijuana prohibition,” Gabbard told BuzzFeed News in an interview about two marijuana bills she plans to reintroduce on Thursday.
Gabbard sees a new opening this year, with Democrats in control of the House and the public attention to the 2020 presidential race. “There are new opportunities to actually pass this piece of legislation,” she said, noting that several states legalized marijuana in the past few years — for a total now of 10 states. “It’s necessary for anyone who wants to lead our country.”
The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act would remove marijuana from the list of federally prohibited drugs, so it's not banned by the Controlled Substances Act, while allowing states to maintain whatever law they see fit.
The nod to state autonomy has an appeal to Republicans, certainly, while its neat scope reduces the drag of debate. The measure avoids more complex language of other legalization bills, such as the Marijuana Justice Act, sponsored by fellow 2020 hopeful Sen. Cory Booker, which would expunge criminal records for marijuana and penalize states that keep prohibition laws on the books.
Gabbard lauded her proposal as “very simple, clear cut, and it doesn’t bring any other issues up that can be used as excuses to keep bills like this from seeing the light of day.”
She’s already gotten support from Republicans; Reps. Don Young of Alaska, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan have signed on as cosponsors.
A second bill, the Marijuana Data Collection Act, would study state marijuana legalization programs in order to produce neutral federal reports. Gabbard said it would “dispel myths and stigma” that have blocked marijuana law reform.
Last year, BuzzFeed News reported the Trump administration was collecting marijuana stories and data to portray the drug as a national threat. Gabbard described that as a “clear biased attempt to sway people with only one side of the story.”
Senate Democrats balked at the strategy last summer, leading the White House Drug Czar’s office to pledge that it would only conduct objective research.
Voters may feel whiplash watching Democratic candidates trip over themselves to prove their cannabis bonafides now, just a few years after Hillary Clinton refused to back recreational pot.
Public support for legalization has grown slightly since 2016 (up six points last fall from 2016, according to Gallup). And more states have voted to legalize pot since the last presidential race, most recently Michigan, thanks mostly to ballot measures, not Democratic lawmakers. Legalization has become a litmus test for the left.
"In the 2020 Democratic primary, support for legalization is mandatory and propping up the failed status quo of prohibition is outright disqualifying,” Erik Altieri, executive director of the pro-legalization lobby NORML, told BuzzFeed News.
He praised Gabbard's bill for being "effective in its simplicity," saying it would "end federal prohibition once and for all, full stop."