In a somewhat surprising turn of events, representative Joe Kennedy III released a statement this week voicing his newfound support for the legalization of adult use cannabis. Kennedy, who has served as the U.S. representative for Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional District since 2013, had been a longtime vocal opponent of cannabis legalization measures so it is interesting to see that he has changed his stance regarding its legality. In the statement, Kennedy recognized the overwhelming support that local voters have.
“The first recreational marijuana shops in the commonwealth of Massachusetts are opening their doors Tuesday, two years after Massachusetts resoundingly voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. It’s a familiar trend across the country, where popular support for marijuana has surged. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have now legalized marijuana in some form — three on Election Day just this month.
I’ve remained skeptical.
My reluctance to embrace legalization stems primarily from one place: my ongoing work with the mental health and addiction communities. I’ve seen the devastating effects of drugs that are used and abused. I’ve met family after family torn apart by addiction. And I’ve heard — repeatedly — from mental health advocates on the frontlines who have grave concerns about what access to marijuana might do for those prone to abuse. They worry about research showing marijuana can be addictive, particularly for adolescents.
At the same time, I’ve heard from others who see marijuana quite differently. The parent whose epileptic child needs marijuana to calm her seizures. The veteran whose trauma it eases. The black teen arrested for smoking a joint while his white friends did the same with impunity.”
The representative wisely notes the need for current policies regarding cannabis to change given research and statistics available on the matter while still carefully advocating for moderation in use and expansion of legalization efforts due to potential concerns about addiction, especially when it comes to the youth. Kennedy also goes as far as to suggest that the status of cannabis needs to be changed at a federal level, removing it from its current place as a Schedule I substance in the eyes of the government stating that “Over the past year, I’ve worked to rectify these perspectives. I’ve read, I’ve researched, I’ve had countless conversations with people on both sides. One thing is clear to me: Our federal policy on marijuana is badly broken, benefiting neither the elderly man suffering from cancer whom marijuana may help nor the young woman prone to substance use disorder whom it may harm. The patchwork of inconsistent state laws compounds the dysfunction.”
Kennedy went on to speak about how the scheduling of cannabis has adversely and disproportionately affected persons of color who find themselves on the wrong end of what some would consider draconian drug policies adding that “Our federal government has ceded its responsibility — and authority — to thoughtfully regulate marijuana. This needs to change. Given the rapid pace of state-level legalization and liberalization, I believe we must 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. Since 1970, marijuana has been included in the CSA as a Schedule I drug — those that have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse — along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy. Given the FDA’s recent approval of prescriptions derived from marijuana, other countries’ recognition of its legitimate medicinal uses, and lower rates of addiction than alcohol or nicotine, this classification is hard to justify. And the failures of the resulting federal prohibition are stark. We see it in our criminal justice system, where skin color dictates how likely you are to be arrested and charged for marijuana possession — despite equal use by people of all races — which devastates families and communities of color.”
What are your thoughts on representative Kennedy’s change of heart regarding cannabis policies?