Joe Kennedy III Advocates For Federal Marijuana Legalization

By Paul Gaita 12/10/18

Representative Joe Kennedy III detailed his support for federal marijuana legalization in a recent op-ed.

Representative Joe Kennedy III detailed his support for federal marijuana legalization in a recent op-ed.
Photo via YouTube

Representative Joe Kennedy III voiced his support for removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and legalizing it at the national level.

Kennedy, a Democrat and the US Representative for Massachusetts' 4th congressional district, penned an op-ed for the health and life sciences magazine Stat in late November that outlined his advocacy for legalization, which he based on the growing number of states with legalization initiatives – including his own home state – and the health benefits attributed to marijuana.

Due to the federal government's apparent inability to reconcile these advancements with its stance on legality, Kennedy opined that it should "cede its responsibility – and authority – to thoughtfully regulate marijuana."

Kennedy's position is an about-face from previous statements made on legalization, most notably on Jimmy Kimmel Live! where his support of cannabis prohibition put him at odds with the majority of his party.

He addressed his reticence in the Stat piece, where he noted that his work with the mental health and addiction communities had made him "skeptical" of marijuana's alleged benefits. "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," he explained.

But Kennedy said that he had also listened to those supporting cannabis legalization, primarily for health reasons, like "the parent whose epileptic child needs marijuana to calm her seizures, [or] the veteran whose trauma it eases [or] the black teen arrested for smoking a joint while his white friends did the same with impunity," he wrote.

Through research and conversations with individuals on both sides of the legalization argument, Kennedy said that he had reached the conclusion that "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 abuse disorder whom it may harm."

He also noted the negative impact that prohibition has on the economy, citing marijuana businesses forced to implement cash-only transactions due to banks' reluctance to work with them over federal regulation, and the loss of career and housing opportunities due to restrictions on jobs with and leasing to marijuana retailers.

"Given the rapid pace of state-level legalization and liberation, I believe we must implement strong, clear and fair federal guidelines," wrote Kennedy. "To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and legalize it at the federal level."

Though he has advocated for legalization, Kennedy also noted that his concerns about the public health issues associated with marijuana remain. But by making cannabis legal at the federal level, he said that health and addiction advocates will have their "best chance" to make sure that tax resources are directed towards consumer safety and treatment through federal regulation.

"Legalization is not a cure-all," he concluded. "But legalization would guide states choosing to move forward with strong and clear national standards meant to ensure that all Americans are protected fully and equally."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.