9th Congressional District Race: Hiller Introduces Cannabis Platform

New Yorkers hoping to enjoy some recreational cannabis legally may have to wait still as Albany can’t pass legislation, but some of the New York congressional candidates seek action on the federal level.

Congressional candidate Michael Hiller, a social justice activist running to unseat U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D- Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Flatbush, Kensington, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Midwood, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Prospect Lefferts Gardens) in next year’s Democratic primary for New York’s Ninth Congressional District, is building off of his real-life experiences with cannabis law by rolling out a platform of ideas for the drug that is still federally prohibited.

Michael Hiller. Courtesy of Marco A Gonzales Photography.
Congresswoman Yvette Clarke

If Hiller has his way, the federal ban would go the way of the 18th Amendment that banned alcohol, and recreational cannabis would be treated more like the way alcohol is treated today.

“For years, I’ve been fighting for the constitutional rights of patients, their families and those who have been harmed by the failed ‘War on Drugs,’ Hiller said in a statement. “America’s ‘War on Drugs’ has been a catastrophic failure in every sense except one – cannabis prohibition remains one of the most successful disinformation campaigns in modern-day history.” 

Cannabis has been banned under federal law since the 1970 Controlled Substance Act, which still schedules cannabis alongside some of the most dangerous drugs. Legal obstacles preventing cannabis use started back in the late 1930s after the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act. 

Just last month, Pew Research found that about two-thirds of respondents backed a repeal of the federal prohibition on cannabis. Hiller leads a lawsuit that challenges the government’s classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substance Act, but he laid out his platform because he thinks that Congress, not the courts, ultimately need to do something about cannabis prohibition.

Besides decriminalizing cannabis nationwide by removing it from the Controlled Substance Act, Hiller wants to make sure cannabis legalization reaches its fullest potential and make sure those who were harmed the most by the current laws on the book get justice. Decriminalization under Hiller’s platform would apply to anyone currently awaiting trial for cannabis-related crimes, and he would require the courts to expunge all records for cannabis-related crimes. His plan would not include violent offenders and offenders who sold to minors.

A 5% sales tax on cannabis would go towards community programs meant to further heal the damage done by the current cannabis laws. An Opportunity Trust Fund would be created for the purpose of running three grant programs that do things like help economically disadvantaged people get a cannabis business started. 

Hiller would also make sure that people could not be discriminated against for cannabis use by barring things like denying someone from federal housing for a past cannabis offense. He also sees legalization as an opportunity for the government to gather and use data on cannabis because it would no longer be in the dark. Hiller’s platform would expand research into medical uses for cannabis and psychedelic drugs as well.

Hiller’s opponents may not have his legal experience with cannabis but more or less take similar positions.

Adem Bunkeddeko

Adem Bunkeddeko, who narrowly lost to Clarke in 2018, is sticking to the same cannabis policies he unveiled at the time. “My position has not wavered since 2018 when I called for the legalization of marijuana, with a focus on prioritizing investment in communities who have been impacted the most, expungement of records, and the restoration of voting rights,” Bunkeddeko said.

Clarke has supported bills during her time in Congress that would help bring social justice and solve issues within the growing industry of dispensaries not being able to put their money in banks because of federal laws. 

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