Joe Kennedy Calls Current U.S. Marijuana Policy Dysfuntional

His voice adds to a growing number of high-profile politicians who support federal legalization.

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The way U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts sees it:  A patchwork of laws governing the sale and use of recreational and medical marijuana “compounds the dysfunction” surrounding legalization of marijuana.

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Writing in the science-based website STAT, Kennedy expressed the necessity for the US government to implement strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines. To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and legalize it at the federal level.”

His position is a reversal from Kennedy’s earlier opposition to legalized marijuana. But the 38-year-old congressman, who has served in Congress since 2013, said his mind has been changed through his own research and experiences.

He is perhaps the most famous name in politics to come out in favor of nationwide legalization of marijuana, but he’s not alone in talking about the issue.

Related: 11 Facts Cannabis Entrepreneurs Should Know About the Black Market


Kennedy’s Argument

The timing of Kennedy’s essay is no fluke. It appeared just as his home state of Massachusetts began legal recreational marijuana sales. Also, Michigan voters made their state the 10th to legalize adult-use marijuana at the ballot box in November.

Kennedy wrote that when it comes to marijuana, the federal government has “ceded its responsibility -- and authority --to thoughtfully regulate marijuana.” Marijuana remains a Schedule I illegal drug at the national level, on par with heroin and LSD, even as people in many states can now use it recreationally or for medical reasons.

“One thing is clear to me: Our federal policy on marijuana is badly broken,” he wrote.

Kennedy listed issues that had changed his mind on marijuana.

  • Meeting parents of epileptic children need marijuana to calm seizures. He noted the FDA approval of Epidiolex, a marijuana-based drug that addresses seizures.
  • Veterans who say marijuana helps ease their post-traumatic stress disorder
  • The racial disparity in drug arrests, where a black teen will get arrested for smoking a joint “while his white friends did the same with impunity.”
  • The fact that cannabis research in the U.S. is falling behind because research is difficult with cannabis on Schedule I
  • The lack of “federal guardrails,” such as those in place for alcohol and tobacco, to “protect public health and safety and ensure equal justice.”

Related: Hemp Legalization Clears House, Off to President for Final Approval

Bipartisan Support

Kennedy’s essay came out after voters returned control of the U.S House of Representatives to the Democratic party. That appears likely to open the door for debate on marijuana legalization at the national level.

Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts and the incoming House Rules Committee chair, has said he will allow debate on marijuana legislation to reach the House floor. That’s something that didn’t happen with Texas Republican Pete Sessions chairing the committee since 2013.

Even Republicans are moving on the issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell , a Kentucky Republican, has said he wants language lifting the federal ban on industrial hemp farming included in the Agriculture Improvement Act.

Related: States Are Starting to Certify Organic Cannabis Because the Feds Won't


Action Needed

Kennedy called for removing marijuana from the Schedule I list where it has been since the 1970s. He further called for federal guidelines to legalize cannabis at the national level, much as Canada did earlier this year.

He said such action would the federal government to “thoroughly and thoughtfully” regulate marijuana. He specifically mentioned:

  • The ability to set packaging and advertising rules so that they do not target kids
  • The ability to set labeling requirements and quality standards, so consumers know what they’re buying.
  • The ability to dedicate money to encourage safe use and spread awareness about the risks of impaired driving.
  • The creation of tax revenue for research on mental health effects, safe prescription drugs and reliable roadside tests

Of course, when your name is Kennedy and you’re a politician from Massachusetts, anything you say gets noticed. That’s even truer when you call for nationwide legalization of marijuana.

NORML, which supports marijuana legalization, greeted Kennedy's essay with open arms, tweeting: “Welcome to the right side of history, Joe Kennedy. You’ll find the waters of justice are warm.”

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