Marijuana Moment is a wire service assembled by Tom Angell, a marijuana legalization activist and journalist covering marijuana reform nationwide. The views expressed by Angell or Marijuana Moment are neither endorsed by the Globe nor do they reflect the Globe’s views on any subject area.
Amid her campaign for Congress, Amy Kennedy, the wife of one of the most prominent voices advocating for keeping marijuana illegal, says she supports federally reclassifying cannabis from its current restrictive status.
Kennedy is one of the Democratic candidates for Congress seeking to unseat Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, after he flipped his party affiliation to Republican and pledged his “undying support” for President Trump.
Kennedy’s husband is Patrick Kennedy, a former Democratic congressman from Rhode Island and a co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), the nation’s leading cannabis prohibitionist group.
Amy Kennedy, like SAM, opposes broad marijuana legalization, but she also disagrees with the group’s platform on at least one key point: She wants marijuana removed from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, she recently told The Press of Atlantic City. That departs from SAM’s doctrine, which calls rescheduling “neither necessary nor desirable.”
As far as SAM is concerned, even modest rescheduling is still a step too far and “would do nothing to allow more cannabis-based medicines.”
In a statement provided by a spokesman, SAM President Kevin Sabet, who cofounded the group with Patrick Kennedy, rejected the idea of any conflict.
“Ms. Kennedy’s position against marijuana commercialization and in favor of research is consistent with SAM’s and the American Medical Association,” Sabet said. “SAM has helped write legislation to create a new schedule for marijuana in order to encourage research while not legalizing, and we are working with a number of campaigns from both parties on smart marijuana policies.”
Kennedy’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
SAM policy calls for a near-total departure from existing medical cannabis programs implemented by the states. State-licensed cultivation, manufacturing, and dispensaries would be replaced by federally authorized “non-psychoactive,” “non-smoked,” and “yet-to-be-approved” components of marijuana, and not the plant itself.
Experts have indicated that providing a pathway for any such system would require additional research. But as long as marijuana remains in Schedule I, such studies will prove challenging, as scientists must go through numerous hoops to lawfully investigate the plant’s effects.
Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, acknowledged last year that the legal status of cannabis makes research “very difficult.”
For years, SAM has been insisting that Schedule I is not a barrier to cannabis research. But Sabet, the group’s president, serves on the the Board of Scientific Advisors for another group called Friends of the National Institutes on Drug Abuse, a coalition of other anti-legalization health advocates and researchers that has argued in congressional submissions that cannabis’s Schedule I status does in fact impede studies.
Amy Kennedy also backs decriminalizing marijuana possession, as well as expunging prior cannabis convictions — positions backed to some degree by the organization her husband cofounded.
“First we should move to decriminalize, and then do the research and see where that takes us,” she said, she told The Press of Atlantic City. “I’m mostly worried about a for-profit industry [selling marijuana] without having done the research, and the impact it would have. We want to make sure our tax dollars don’t have to go back into our public health.”
When it comes to medical cannabis, rather than the total repeal-and-replace of existing and popular medical cannabis programs backed by SAM, Kennedy said she supports having health insurance providers cover the often-steep cost of medical marijuana — provided, of course, that medical research supports the idea that cannabis is beneficial.
“If we’re saying it has a benefit, let’s get the evidence-based research and get it covered,” she said.
But bolstering research in a significant way would almost certainly require a change in federal law that her husband’s creation, SAM, staunchly opposes. The organization insists that research is possible within the status quo.
Although Kennedy backs certain modest reforms, her opposition to legalization in a primary field of other Democratic candidates who openly back the idea — which, despite campaign trail promises from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to end prohibition, has yet to happen in the Garden State — makes her perhaps the most conservative on marijuana policy.
Even the now-GOP incumbent Drew appears to back the idea of easing restrictions on research. He also backs decriminalization.
While Amy Kennedy’s departure from the SAM platform is notable, she isn’t the only Kennedy who sees a need for reform where Patrick Kennedy’s SAM does not. US Representative Joe Kennedy III, of Massachusetts, announced last year that he’s in favor of cannabis legalization after previously standing against the policy change and unsuccessfully campaigning to defeat a 2016 ballot measure to end prohibition in his state.
The congressman is mounting a primary challenge to unseat US Senator Ed Markey and has transformed from a legalization skeptic to a supporter.