Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced her potential candidacy for the 2020 presidential race recently, saying that she’s forming an exploratory committee. But where does she stand when it comes to the cannabis movement?
The senator, who has an A grade from NORML, has become one of the most vocal advocates for federal marijuana reform in Congress, co-sponsoring multiple pieces of legislation and frequently talking about the issue in speeches and on social media. However, she did not start off her political career supporting cannabis reform.
Gillibrand did not co-sponsor any cannabis-related bills during her time in the House from 2007 to 2009, although colleagues filed several. Also during that period she voted against a floor amendment to protect state medical marijuana laws from federal interference.
However, she has evolved considerably on the issue in recent years and has signed her name onto several notable Senate cannabis bills. That includes the Marijuana Justice Act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and punish states that enforce marijuana laws disproportionately against people of color.
She also co-sponsored legislation designed to protect medical marijuana states from federal interference, make it easier to conduct research on cannabis and legalize industrial hemp. Another research-related bill she co-sponsored would encourage the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to study how marijuana can treat specific conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder.
During testimony at a Senate Judiciary Sub-Committee hearing in 2016, Gillibrand said that “I know some people are saying that we should wait until there’s more research before changing the laws, but the one thing blocking the research is the law.”
In April 2018, Gillibrand sent a letter to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting that he attend a meeting with some of her constituents who’ve been arrested for non-violent marijuana offenses.
“It is an American principle that no matter the law, it should be applied equally to all people, regardless of their race or background,” she wrote. “Sadly, as you will hear from my constituents, for decades, the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ has not been pursued with equality.”
She also joined a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers who sent a letter to Sessions, imploring him to update them on the status of applications to cultivate cannabis for federal research purposes.
Gillibrand’s website says:
Medical marijuana is legal in 28 states and the District of Columbia, where lawmakers recognize medical research showing cannabis can alleviate symptoms of serious conditions, including epileptic and seizure disorders in children, cancer and Parkinson’s Disease. Sixteen more states have laws regulating cannabidiol.
However, medical marijuana remains illegal under federal law, leaving patients and providers vulnerable to arrest—even if they are in compliance with their state laws. As a currently classified Schedule I drug, federal law restricts medical marijuana research, as well as fair and safe financial services for medical marijuana-related businesses. Senator Gillibrand, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rand Paul (R-KY), have introduced a bipartisan bill—the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act—to recognize that marijuana has accepted medical use, and that it is the states’ responsibility to set medical marijuana policy.
This bill will: