Op-Ed: Elizabeth Warren Is the Cannabis Choice

Elizabeth Warren pumps up supporters in Denver on February 23, the same day she released her plan for marijuana reform.EXPAND
Elizabeth Warren pumps up supporters in Denver on February 23, the same day she released her plan for marijuana reform.
Evan Semón
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As a cannabis policy expert, I can confidently say that Elizabeth Warren has the best plan to legalize marijuana.

Why? Because her plan not only addresses ending prohibition, but it considers how legalization can be executed in an equitable and just manner. The failed "War on Drugs" disproportionately harmed African-American, Latino and poor families across the United States. Countless lives were ruined at the hands of our government that spread lies about the damage of the plant and suppressed research that could prove its medical efficacy.

We need a bold new approach that legalizes cannabis, expunges past convictions, and creates an inclusive cannabis industry — Elizabeth Warren has a plan for that.

I live in Pueblo — the poorest of Colorado’s large cities, and also the only majority Latino city. When I read in her plan that “anti-marijuana laws were first adopted over a hundred years ago to target primarily Mexican migrants and Mexican-Americans” and that “the term ‘marijuana’ itself was racialized, meant to associate the plant with Mexican-origin people, stigmatizing both,” I knew that Elizabeth is a candidate who understands both the history and the policy of cannabis.

This is personal to me. As a state Representative and Minority Leader in the Colorado Legislature, I had a leading role in developing our marijuana rules. We’ve raised over a billion dollars in cannabis tax revenue that funds school infrastructure, full-day kindergarten, youth literacy programs, and investments in homelessness services and mental health care. That’s why I’m impressed with Elizabeth's commitment to passing Senator Booker’s bill to invest $500 million a year into Black and Latino communities that have suffered the most harm and work to repair the damage done by our criminal justice system.

As a Pueblo County Commissioner, I established the first cannabis-funded college scholarship program for every high school graduate to pursue higher education. We also created the Institute of Cannabis Research at Colorado State University-Pueblo. That’s why I admire her work to enable and expand federal marijuana research, particularly for medical use by veterans who suffer from chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

I agree with Elizabeth: Bringing marijuana into the regulatory framework is insufficient. We have a responsibility to ensure equity in the cannabis industry. Those who are already wealthy should not be the largest beneficiaries after a century of racist enforcement policy. Small and minority-owned businesses deserve a fighting chance at success. That’s why I’m encouraged by her commitment to maintaining competitive markets and increasing access to capital for women- and minority-owned businesses.

Sal Pace was a strong proponent of allowing the legal cannabis industry into Pueblo County.
Sal Pace was a strong proponent of allowing the legal cannabis industry into Pueblo County.
Courtesy of Sal Pace

Elizabeth is not a lifelong politician, but she is a lifelong fighter for people in need. After the Trump administration and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced their intention to interfere with states that legalized weed, Elizabeth fought back to protect the people of Colorado. She worked across the aisle, even with Senator Cory Gardner, despite disagreeing with him on the vast majority of issues. She demonstrated her legislative skills and willingness to put people over party in order to make progress.

Her leadership sent a clear message to Trump and Sessions that the American people were united against their anti-marijuana agenda. It’s one reason that I’m so confident she’s the best person to be the next President of the United States. She’s consistent in her belief in doing the most good, for the most people, as quickly as possible.

A candidate who can mobilize cannabis voters will also inspire new people to the polls. Data shows that cannabis voters turn out when politicians speak to them about cannabis policy. Two years ago, tens of thousands of cannabis employees received mail and phone calls explaining how Jared Polis was an advocate for marijuana. Then they were asked to go vote. These cannabis voters who had previously voted at significantly lower rates in the last gubernatorial election turned out at a rate of nearly 50 percent in 2018. Only Elizabeth Warren has the track record and campaign plan to engage these mostly millennial cannabis voters, inspiring them to turn out in historic numbers in 2020.

As a cannabis voter, I’m proud to endorse Elizabeth Warren for President. I hope you will vote for her on March 3.

Sal Pace has served as a Pueblo County Commissioner and Democratic Minority Leader in the Colorado House of Representatives. He is currently a boardmember of Mineral Hill Industries, a cannabis real estate company, and serves on the board of directors for the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization dedicated to cannabis law reform.

Westword occasionally runs opinion pieces and essays on matters of interest to residents of metro Denver. Have one you'd like to share? Email editorial@westword.com.

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