Tulsi Gabbard, cannabis and the single-issue dilemma

Posted on January 24th, 2019 by Bill Weinberg and tagged , , , , , , , , .

TulsiAmong the current crowded field of Democratic hopefuls for the 2020 presidential race, at least a handful have progressive positions on cannabis. Among these, the most outspoken on the question has probably been Hawaii's Tulsi Gabbard—who, unfortunately, has deeply problematic stances on some other very critical issues.

The movement for liberation of the cannabis plant from the prohibition regime has always been a big tent, attracting progressives of left-wing inclination as well as right-wing libertarians. This inevitably means that some cannabis advocates may have to part company with a candidate who happens to be good on that question, but crosses lines of fundamental disagreement on others. For many, a case study may be provided by Hawaii's Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has just thrown her hat into the Democratic ring. 

The good....
Gabbard gets creds for probably being more fearless in her disregard of the cannabis stigma than any of the other hopefuls. She actually produced an opening video presentation at the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) meet-up in Kauai in December 2017, where she spoke about her recently introduced Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, co-sponsored with Rep. Tom Garrett.

On the VoteTulsi website, she states: "By removing marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, we can remove the barriers to enterprising small businesses so that they can secure bank loans and insure their businesses. Medical researchers currently handcuffed by strict federal regulations can be freed up to study treatments, and doctors can freely prescribe the best treatments to their patients. Critically, this bill will transform our criminal justice system. Millions of people and their families have been impacted by the so-called 'War on Drugs,' which has boosted the private prison industry but failed our nation's communities."

The bad...
Despite her appeal to cannabis voters, many progressives see a reactionary and Islamophobic streak in Gabbard's politics. The Hawaii State Teachers Association last year endorsed Sherry Campagna, who challenged Gabbard in the Democratic primary. In announcing the decision, the HSTA cited Gabbard's stance on Syria—which has been pretty unabashedly soft on the genocidal dictator Bashar Assad.

When Gabbard notoriously met with Assad in 2017 it was not to make peace with an enemy but to support an ally. The delegation she was part of was filled with regime sycophants, including adherents of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP), which, as its name implies, is a neo-fascist formation. The SSNP was briefly in power in Syria in the 1950s, and brought ex-Nazis to help run the security apparatus, in the manner of Bolivia under the right-wing generals. Today the SSNP is a "satellite party" of Assad's equally fascistic Baath Party (which has also availed itself of Nazi talent).

Gabbard has sponsored legislation that would bar any US support to the Syrian opposition—not just arms, but any support at all. She's called Idlib, the last piece of Syria still controlled by the opposition, an "al-Qaeda stronghold"—despite the fact that it is controlled by a patchwork of opposition groups, including secular and pro-democratic ones that have been actively resisting the extremist yahoos. Such talk legitimizes the bombing of civilians, and tars the Syrian Revolution as monolithically jihadist. In other words, it is echoing Assad's dishonest war propaganda.

...And the ugly
Gabbard seems to be similarly enamored of India's reactionary ruler, the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, who is responsible for a growing atmosphere of terror against both Muslims and secularists. She was instrumental in the 2013 defeat of a House resolution that would have called on India to improve the human rights situation of its religious minorities.

Interestingly, after Trump's victory in 2016, Gabbard was among those to meet with the president-elect at the Trump Tower—a schmooze later reported to have been arranged by Trump's ultra-right then-strategist Steve Bannon. (Also making the pilgrimage to the Tower during that period was French far-right politician Marine Le Pen—strange company for a supposed "progressive.")

Gabbard is also being dogged by recollections that she worked for an anti-LGBT organization run by her father and opposed a civil union bill during her time in the Hawaii state legislature. CNN recalls that Gabbard cited her stance "backing traditional marriage" during her run for the legislature in 2002. She now says she regrets her past views on the question. But some are skeptical, noting that it seems in line with other aspects of her strange politics.   

And finally, the others
While Gabbard may be more outspoken on the issue, it should be noted that other of the nine Democrats who have announced as hopefuls for the 2020 presidential race also have laid it on the line for cannabis. California's Sen. Kamala Harris signed on to Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act last year, which aso would have de-scheduled cannabis.

"Right now in this country people are being arrested, being prosecuted, and end up spending time in jail or prison all because of their use of a drug that otherwise should be considered legal," Harris said in a press release. "Making marijuana legal at the federal level is the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I know this as a former prosecutor and I know it as a senator."

She also supported another Booker-sponsored bill that would have eliminated drug convictions as a bar to student financial aid.

However, Harris has also been harshly criticized by progressives over her time as California's attorney general, when, for instance, she opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving police officers. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, another presidential aspirant, last year co-sponsored the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, whch, at least, sought to remove the threat of federal intervention and prosecution in states that have legalized.

New York's Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has also spoken out for cannabis law reform, saying last year, "Legalizing marijuana is a social justice issue and a moral issue that Congress needs to address."

Hopefully these politicians will get a chance to vote this year on the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, another bill to de-schedule cannabis, introduced in the House as HR 420.

Photo: ICBC  

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