Rep. Joe Kennedy III, Once Staunchly Anti-Marijuana, Changes His Position

6 in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, including a majority of Republicans, recent polling shows

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., expressed support for descheduling marijuana in an editorial in the Boston Globe's health vertical STAT News on Tuesday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

One of the staunchest opponents of marijuana decriminalization in Congress, Rep. Joe Kennedy III, changed course on Tuesday, endorsing nationwide legalization in a Boston Globe editorial.

“I believe we must implement strong, clear, and fair federal guidelines. To do that requires us to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and legalize it at the federal level,” the Massachusetts congressman wrote, citing its value to public health and racial inequities in how laws on pot are enforced. 

While Kennedy bemoaned the patchwork of state marijuana laws across the U.S., he wrote that “our federal policy on marijuana is badly broken.”

That stance represents a reversal for the 4th District Democrat, who voted against a 2015 provision to claw back the powers of the Department of Justice to pursue medical marijuana businesses in states that have legalized them.

Kennedy said his reluctance on decriminalization stemmed from concerns that marijuana could become addictive for people with a history of substance abuse and adolescents. 

“I’ve seen the devastating effects of drugs that are used and abused. I’ve met family after family torn apart by addiction,” Kennedy wrote. 

But critics have pointed out that Kennedy previously wanted even non-addictive cannabinoids out of reach. In 2015, he opposed a narrow, bipartisan bill to shield children with seizure disorders who use non-psychoactive cannabidiol extracts from the Drug Enforcement Agency, according to Marijuana Moment, an online magazine in favor of legalization. 

Kennedy has also come under fire for his relationship to the pharmaceutical industry. He earned hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock value from investments in Gilead Sciences Inc., which was the subject of a congressional probe into drug price gouging. He sponsored legislation that may have revised the Centers for Disease Control’s opioid prescribing guidelines, which were opposed by drugmakers.

His cousin, former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, founded an organization aimed at stalling momentum towards decriminalization, and has also been criticized for his ties to the pharmaceutical industry, including the makers of anti-opioid drugs. 

Six in 10 Americans support legalizing marijuana, including a majority of Republicans, according to recent polling.

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