One time anti-cannabis crusader Joe Kennedy III, the Democratic Congressman from Massachusetts 4th District, has come out in favor of legalization in an op-ed published on the health website STAT on Tuesday. Kennedy, whose state began selling recreational cannabis on the same day, becomes the last Democratic holdout on the issue.
“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,” wrote Kennedy in the op-ed. “The patchwork of inconsistent state laws compounds the dysfunction. Our federal government has ceded its responsibility — and authority — to thoughtfully regulate marijuana.”
In his role representing the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District, Kennedy consistently voted down House amendments to protect states with medical cannabis programs as well as provisions allowing veterans access to marijuana. He opposed legalization in his home state also.
From health care to criminal justice, the failures of our nation's prohibition on marijuana can be seen in every corner of our society. Status quo isn’t working & states aren’t turning back. It’s time to legalize & regulate marijuana at the federal level. Read my @STATnews op/ed: https://t.co/q5ZHzYpRwz
— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) November 20, 2018
“My reluctance to embrace legalization stems primarily from one place: my ongoing work with the mental health and addiction communities,” explained Kennedy on Tuesday. “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.”
As an opponent of legalization, Kennedy, who is 38 years old and one of the younger members of Congress was an outlier in his party. According to a recent Gallup poll, 75 percent of Democrats — and 53 percent of Republicans — believe that marijuana should be made fully legal.
Kennedy, who some consider a future presidential prospect, clearly sees the writing on the wall.
“That’s a tough issue for me. I come at it a little bit differently, obviously, than the vast majority of my colleagues,” he said in an interview earlier this year. “I hear their position. I really do. I’m in a state that voted for [legalization].”
Separately he said that “the party is clearly moving in that legalization direction. It might already be there.”
— SAM (@learnaboutsam) November 20, 2018
Kennedy has already seen resistance to his newfound position, from the prohibitionist group Smart Approaches to Marijuana — which, coincidentally was founded by his relative and former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy.
“Representative Kennedy’s op-ed articulates an understandable frustration over the disconnect between state and federal marijuana laws,” wrote SAM in a post on Tuesday. However, they go on to say they “do not agree” with his position.
Whether or not Rep. Kennedy’s new take on cannabis will translate into legislative action remains to be seen, but it is another nail in the coffin of cannabis prohibition in the United States.
*Header Image: Rep. Joe Kennedy III