2016 is the rematch for the U.S. Senate between GOP Sen. Ron Johnson and Democratic former Sen. Russ Feingold. Feingold lost to Johnson in 2010, in the GOP tide that brought Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and flipped the state legislature from Dem to GOP. Six years later, with Johnson up for reelection, Feingold hopes to return to his old seat.
Although long known as a reliable progressive, Feingold has has a slim record on drug policy reform. Sen. Ron Johnson, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, held a June 2016 hearing on cannabis legalization. The article notes that, “Johnson recognizes and is able to articulate the prohibition’s harms, he’s not yet ready to fully back legalization, out of a concern that it could increase youth use.”
So while we know a little bit about Johnson’s views from his comments from the hearing, the cannabis issue was not at the level it is today when Russ Feingold held the seat. Since he was not outspoken about cannabis as senator, we know little of what he might do. His would-be colleague if his campaign is successful, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) has a long record of supporting medical cannabis and cannabis-related legislation dating back to her days in the Wisconsin Assembly. Feingold, on the other hand, has voted in favor of federal Byrne Grants, funding used to target drug users by states.
There is also a Libertarian running for the seat. Phillip Anderson, opposes the Drug War and condemns U.S. drug policy as counterproductive. An article in the Chippewa Herald notes, “He wants to immediately legalize marijuana. Anderson favors eventual legalization of other drugs too, with U.S. policy in the short term shifting toward treatment of addiction instead of criminal enforcement.”
In the hopes of prompting Russ Feingold to open up more about his position on pot legalization, I sent this letter to the Wisconsin State Journal which published it online Aug. 17 and in the Aug. 18 print edition as seen below.
Here is the text of the letter as published online by the State Journal:
Much has changed in the cannabis world since Russ Feingold lost to Ron Johnson in 2010.
Then, about 15 states had legalized medical cannabis, a number now at 25. Today, four states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult use. This November, at least three more will vote on medical, and five more will vote on adult use.
Feingold’s record has been thin. While cannabis activists extensively advocated for his support, he never sponsored any bills.
The federal CARERS Act would make it easier for researchers to study marijuana. It is sponsored by U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, and Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, and has 19 cosponsors including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison.
Polling has long shown overwhelming support for medical cannabis in Wisconsin, and in July the Marquette Law School Poll found 59 percent agreeing that marijuana “should be fully legalized and regulated like alcohol” in Wisconsin.
Feingold owes it to Wisconsin voters to reveal where he stands on this issue. Does he agree on full legalization? Would he sign on to the CARERS Act? What about veteran access? What about the racial disparities of the drug war?
Wisconsin voters deserve answers.
— Gary Storck, Madison