Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a candidate for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, sat down with leading marijuana law reform activists and cannabis industry insiders in Denver on Thursday.
O’Malley, who currently trails far behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in polls, is increasingly making criminal justice and marijuana law reform a centerpiece of his campaign.
At the meeting, billed as a “Marijuana Legalization Listening Session,” the candidate heard from military veterans who use medical cannabis, a former law enforcement officer who now supports legalization, dispensary owners and lawyers who specialize in marijuana laws.
As governor, O’Malley signed bills into law decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and legalizing medical cannabis, despite having earlier been a vocal opponent of drug policy reform.
While O’Malley spent most of the hour-long meeting listening to the advocates, he did have a few things to say about his evolving views on the issue.
“If you talk to young Americans under 30 there is a growing consensus that marijuana should be treated more akin to alcohol than to other substances,” he said. “There’s definitely a difference between marijuana and many other controlled substances.”
O’Malley also suggested that some tax revenues from legal marijuana sales could be used to help address the “heroin epidemic.”
The candidate reiterated his pledge to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II if elected. While President Obama has often said that rescheduling is a job for Congress, O’Malley “would reschedule it with executive authority that the president already has” and not wait for lawmakers to act. Sometimes, he said, “the executive has to exercise leadership and then the legislature can follow.”
On the question of full legalization, O’Malley said, “I’m not there yet but I am watching very closely what’s happening in Colorado and Washington State.”
He added, “This is an evolving, changing area,” and he appreciates the chance to “have this conversation and be informed by true facts and experiences people in Colorado are having on the ground here.”
When asked when he would make up his mind about ending prohibition, O’Malley said, “I would think that after two to three years you would have some trend lines and some solid factual evidence upon which to base new action, based on deeper understanding.”
One area where O’Malley thinks change should come sooner rather than later is undoing federal restrictions that prevent state-legal marijuana providers from accessing banking services. The policy has resulted in much of the industry operating as cash-only, which makes operators a prime target for robbery. “I would hate to think we’d have to wait until there’s a tragedy until we find a way to safely allow these now-legal businesses to bank,” he said.
Click here to find out what else O’Malley and other presidential candidates have said about marijuana law reform.