The timeline and cost for completing the Purple Line is up in the air after a judge ruled that contractors may quit in the middle of the project. Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich weighs in on that, the latest coronavirus news and more.
With just weeks left before Election Day, Kojo hosts a debate between those taking opposing positions on a D.C. ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana in the nation’s capital. The Politics Hour also chats with U.S. Rep. John Delaney, a Democrat running for re-election in the Maryland’s 6th district. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
- Will Sommer Loose Lips Columnist, Washington City Paper
- John Delaney Member, U.S. House of Representatives (D-Md.)
- Malik Burnett Vice Chair, D.C. Cannabis Campaign
- Will Jones Founder, Two Is Enough D.C.
Watch The Full Show
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5, at American University, in Washington, welcome to "The Politics Hour," starring some guy who goes by the moniker of Loose Lips. I'm Kojo Nnamdi. Tom Sherwood will be rejoining us next week. Our guest analyst today is the "Loose Lips" columnist for Washington City Paper, Will Sommer. Thank you so much for joining us.
MR. WILL SOMMERThanks for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is John Delaney. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He's a Democrat who represents Maryland's 6th District, which includes parts of Montgomery County, Frederick County in western Maryland. He is up for reelection this fall. Congressman Delaney, thank you for joining us.
REP. JOHN DELANEYGreat to be here with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIWill Sommer, you don't cover Maryland. So, what, have you been studying up with questions for Congressman Delaney?
SOMMERI have been, actually. Yeah, I was just at the Starbucks reading some articles in the Baltimore Sun about the race.
NNAMDIHe has violated the first rule of the broadcast already. He's done research. He's studying up. He's not being simply spontaneous. We will see how that works out. If you have comments or questions for Congressman Delaney, give us a call at 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com. Shoot us a tweet, @kojoshow, or go to our website, kojoshow.org, where you can watch the live videostream of the broadcast and ask a question or make a comment there.
NNAMDIThe number again, 800-433-8850. Before we get into questions about your race, we learned yesterday that a nurse who was infected while treating an ebola patient in Dallas, has been transferred to a unit at NIH in Bethesda, your district right next door, the nation's capital, right down the road. What questions have you had about the transfer and the preparations that went into this decision?
DELANEYWell, I think the decision is the right decision. I think what we've learned from the situation in Dallas is, you know, we weren't as prepared for this -- particularly among a lot of health care institutions as we should have been. And I think concentrating the patients in places like what we have in Emory and what we'll have at NIH, where the level of preparedness is much higher, is the total right answer. It's the right answer for the patients. It's the right answer for the health care workers. And it's the right answer for the system.
DELANEYSo I agree with the decision to transfer the patient to the NIH facility. But, obviously, Kojo, that's just one component of what we have to do here. This morning I actually called on Speaker Boehner to bring Congress back in session so that we could actually develop a bipartisan national strategy for dealing with this. And so that this…
NNAMDIDid you say bipartisan?
DELANEYBipartisan, yeah. I know that that's hard to imagine.
NNAMDIGood luck with that, but go ahead. Yes.
DELANEYBut look, you know, this is not -- this ebola crisis is not a political issue. Right? This is health care issue. This is a national and international emergency and we need to treat it as such. And there's multiple components to what we need to do here, obviously. We need to be doing things in the United States.
NNAMDIIs one of those things -- should one of those things be cancelling or banning flights from West African countries into the United States?
DELANEYI think a travel ban would be the right idea, provided we figured out a way to make sure aid workers could get back. Right? I mean we have to think about these aid workers like we think about our military, to some extent, which is we don't leave them behind. And we can't leave aid workers behind. And we will not sufficiently deal with this ebola crisis unless we defeat it in Africa. And we cannot defeat it in Africa unless there's enormous resources -- much more than we're providing now -- being delivered there.
DELANEYWe need resources around logistics. We need resources around beds. We need resources around food. We need resources around nutrition. We need resources around protecting health care workers. There's a massive logistical and resource challenge for dealing with this in Africa. And if we -- what we've learned is that if you don't defeat it in Africa, it will come and spread. It'll spread to Europe. It'll spread to Asia.
NNAMDISo for the time being you favor expanded screening at airports?
DELANEYScreenings are -- well, listen, screenings are in many ways much more effective because people can enter this country in many ways, other than from direct travel from the specific West African countries that we're focused on. So I do think screenings are the right answer. The symptoms are observable, a combination of questionnaires and basic kind of medical screening, observing the patient, doing temperatures, etcetera, I think can significantly mitigate and lead to appropriate isolation and and quarantine of patients that are affected.
DELANEYBut the key point here, as I said, Kojo, this should not be a political issue. This should be a bipartisan, national/international response that involves greater aide overseas, greater coordination with our foreign partners who view this as a crisis. I think it's appropriate that the military intervened. I think it's great that other militaries are now arriving in Africa. And I think we need to do more here. I think there needs to be more resources, better training and real strategy for dealing and isolating this what has proven to be much more complex than we originally anticipated.
NNAMDIOur guest is John Delaney. He's a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a Democrat who represents Maryland's 6th District. He's up for reelection this fall. Our guest analyst is Will Sommer. He's the "Loose Lips" columnist for Washington City Paper. Later in the broadcast we'll be having a debate over the legalization of marijuana initiative that will be on the District of Columbia ballot come November 4th. But, Will?
SOMMERSure. One more question on ebola. President Obama just announced this ebola czar today. What do you think of the job he's done along with the CDC?
DELANEYSo first of all, I think the ebola czar is a really good idea. In -- you know, as a concept. And I think the person he's choosing, Ron Klain -- at least that's what I heard on the way in. I don't know if that's been fully confirmed. I actually know Ron. Ron's a friend of mine. He's an incredibly talented, intelligent and sophisticated, experienced person, who I think really understands risk management.
DELANEYSo I think in having that capability in the government to coordinate our various responses is a really good idea because, look, there's -- the CDC has a role here, foreign aid has a role here, working with our hospital systems in the United States has a role here, working with our nurses associations to make sure health care workers, for example, they want more of a seat at the table. There's a lot of things to be coordinated here. So I think having the czar role is a really good first step.
DELANEYI think everyone has been behind on this issue. So I think everyone has been behind on this issue and been playing catch-up. In early September I sent a letter to the president and the speaker saying that we need to take a different posture to this crisis. In other words, we'd been playing catch-up. And what we have to do is focusing on actually overcorrecting, which means more aid, more investments in our system here. So I think everyone, you know, the CDC clearly underestimated how prepared hospitals were for handling this.
DELANEYBecause if you look what happened in Dallas, if you look at how they dealt with this infected patient, sent him home, when he came back he was projectile vomiting. A lot of the nurses were putting tape around their neck -- which, by the way, when you remove the tape creates abrasions and opens them up for more infection. I mean, this was an example of us not being prepared.
DELANEYSo I think it's fair to say that a lot -- we've been playing catch up, we've been behind, and there's more we need to do. And I think, you know, hopefully we'll finally do that.
NNAMDIOn to politics. We spoke with your Republican opponent on this broadcast last week, Daniel Bongino. He said if you stuck his case for beating you on a Wheaties box it would be lower taxes to let people spend more of their own money, give people more control of their health care and give people more control of school choice. Where are you on those issues? First, lowering taxes to let people spend more of their own money.
DELANEYLook it, where I am on all these issues is we need bipartisan solutions to move the country forward and focus on creating jobs in this country, because everything we care about -- no matter what the issue, whether it's -- you mentioned education, you mentioned health care -- any issue, our ability to deal with it as a nation is dramatically improved if we have more economic growth and a growing job base, particularly a job base that has a rising standard of living.
DELANEYSo my short answer as to what we need to do in Congress is exactly what I'm doing. Focusing on growing the economy, focusing on creating jobs, and do it in a bipartisan manner. And that's the one thing that I bring to Congress, as someone who's new to Congress, who's spent my whole career in the private sector. I started two businesses in Maryland, created a couple thousand jobs. They both became public companies. My approach is very different than his. His is more of kind of a classic Tea Party, point fingers, I don't want to work with people approach.
DELANEYMy approach is much more like what you find in the private sector and the real world. Which is let's solve problems and let's move the country forward. On health care we have a major piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act, that is by the way working in many dimensions. It's lowering health care costs. It's clearly increased access to health care for many people. There are components of it that need to be fixed, which I've voted and worked on many of those fixes.
DELANEYOn education, I think school choice does make a lot of sense. We've seen here in the District of Columbia, which has been the laboratory for school choice. And if you look at what's happened, particularly east of the Anacostia River, in terms of how charter schools have really improved the outcomes and they're now, in fact, taking care of majority of the students on that part of the city, you see where school choice is actually the right answer. But school choice has to obviously be integrated with our public education system.
DELANEYAnd it, you know, it's more appropriate in certain situations than other. So what I tend to not have is kind of, you know, things like these short answers that don't really mean anything. I actually like getting into the facts. I actually like coming up with solutions that can have bipartisan support in solving problems.
SOMMERYour -- when your opponent was on the show last week, I was struck by -- he had a pretty hard line on illegal immigration, undocumented immigrants. I'm curious where you are on, you know, potential path to amnesty. Do you support that? Do you support the Dream Act?
DELANEYSo I do support the Dream Act. I think it's really straightforward what we have to do on immigration. We have a bipartisan immigration bill approved in the Senate of the United States of America that does many things. It fixes our high-scaled Visa situation in this country. Right now we have a situation where we have the most kind of successful and prominent and really elite academic institutions in the United States of America. And we're training a lot of students from around the world. And they can't stay in our country and create jobs. That's crazy.
DELANEYWe need more Visas for low-skilled workers, particularly in the agricultural industry. We actually do need to invest more money in border security. And I believe we have 11 million undocumented residents in this country. I think what my opponent is saying, which is a classic Tea Party response, is we should deport them all right away. First of all, I think that's a terrible answer for those human beings and it shows a lack of sensitivity to the families and the situations that's going on with those people, many of which came here as young children, many of which came here carried in a little bucket when they six months old.
DELANEYBut the other thing, it's disastrous for the U.S. economy, just totally disastrous. So the notion that the right answer is to deport 11 million people overnight, again, that's kind of Tea Party ideology, but it's not common sense. It's not looking at the bottom line of the country. And it's actually not thinking about the best interest of our citizens.
NNAMDII want to get to the phones.
DELANEYSo what I support is the, you know, what's so great is we have a bipartisan bill, it touches on all these key areas of immigration reform. It's bipartisan, not just by one or two token, but really bipartisan. The Congressional Budget Office has scored it to actually reduce the deficit by $100 billion. That's what we should be doing.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones, please don your headphones, gentlemen, so you can hear our caller. The first of which -- of whom is Kay, in Potomac, Md. Kay, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KAYHi. I'm just wondering -- I keep hearing you talk about bipartisanship. And the last two years of Congress have just been brutal. Nobody's really been able to accomplish much. What do you realistically plan to accomplish in the next two years?
DELANEYWell, the one thing I plan to accomplish is get a major piece of legislation, called the Partnership to Build America Act -- which I introduced -- passed. And what the Partnership to Build America Act does is create a large scale infrastructure fund -- $750 billion -- that can rebuild our roads, bridges, build an advanced electro-grid, improve the ailing water infrastructure in this country, work on communications on infrastructure. It does all the kind of categories of infrastructure. It creates a huge capability to do that. And it -- but it does it without any additional spending. Right? Or without any taxpayer dollars.
NNAMDIHow do you accomplish that?
DELANEYWell, you create incentives for private companies to put the money in. And the incentive we create is tied to their ability to repatriate some of their overseas earnings back to the United States. Right now U.S. corporations have about half of their cash sitting overseas, about $2 trillion. And it's over there because of some flaws in our international tax system, which we've been fighting about and arguing about for a long time.
DELANEYWhat our bill does is says that if the U.S. corporation invests money in this infrastructure fund, which will help people by rebuilding infrastructure all over this country, than they get the right to bring some of that money back to the United States. . And what's unique about our bill is we have almost 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats on the bill. That's almost 20 percent of the U.S. Congress. It's the most bipartisan piece of economic legislation in the whole of the Congress.
DELANEYI authored the bill and introduced it towards the beginning of my term. It's since been introduced in the Senate, also on a bipartisan basis. It's got bipartisan support from outside the Hill as well. All the business groups support it, the trade unions support it, think tanks on both sides of the aisle. It's real bipartisanship. And the reason it's bipartisan is not because it's some kind of diluted, I stand for nothing, middle of the road thing. But what it does is it brings together good ideas that each side has advocated for a long time.
DELANEYMyself, as Democrat, and my fellow Democrats, we have been pushing for more infrastructure investment in this country for a long time. We're totally right about that. It makes us more competitive, it creates jobs. My Republican colleagues have said that international tax is flawed. We need to fix that. And they've been right about that. And so that's an example of the kind of bipartisan leadership and independent thinking we need in the Congress, which is exactly what I'm doing. So the answer to your question…
NNAMDIExcept for the fact that when you say 20 percent there are still 80 percent of the members of Congress who have not signed onto this. And the point that you make about Democrats pushing the infrastructure issue so much is one that Republicans don't seem to be quite on board on, but allow me to put that question in the hands of Mary Ann, in Hagerstown, Md. Mary Ann, your turn.
MARY ANNYes. I know the Congressman's very much into infrastructure, but I still can't make the connection between what infrastructure's going to help the basic jobs that we've got right now -- the shortage of jobs. How's that going to help us?
DELANEYSo it'll help in a couple of ways? First of all, nothing puts people to work quite as effectively as infrastructure. And importantly, it puts them to work with what are considered middle skill jobs. In other words, middle class jobs. In other words, jobs that if you have one, you can have a decent standard of living and you don't need to another job. Infrastructure, both directly and indirectly, does that incredibly well. Directly, by the people who actually build the stuff, but indirectly by stimulating a lot of manufacturing of the kind of things that go in infrastructure, which, by the way, are overwhelmingly manufactured in the United States.
DELANEYSo an infrastructure bill is really a jobs bill for the United States of America. It creates jobs. We believe out bill will create over 3 million jobs. That's more jobs than we have in the whole state of Maryland, by the way -- putting that in perspective. But the other thing is it makes us competitive. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that we have a $3 trillion infrastructure hole in this country. And what that means in a global and technology enabled world -- which we're in -- where our competitors are all over the world.
DELANEYVery different than it was kind of post-World War II when we were really the only successful economy in the world. We have lots of competitors now. And to compete in that world we need world class infrastructure. So that's -- and where you live -- I think you said you're from Hagerstown -- you know, things like I-81, for example, that's a hugely important economic driver of that region. And that needs to be expanded, not only for economic reasons but for public safety reasons.
SOMMERSure. Speaking of money, the Baltimore Sun called your race the priciest race going on in the House, in Maryland. What do you think is attracting all that money to the race?
DELANEYYou know, I mean I didn't see the Sun report on -- so I haven't looked at what the other races have raised. I mean, look, we're focused on our message and communicating with voters and my constituents. And so, you know, and I've been very blessed and fortunate to have really good supporters that believe in what we're doing, believe that our independent kind of bipartisan problem-solve, let's get some things done approach is the right answer. So, you know, I can only speak for, you know, the kind of support I have, which is around that. Again, I think my…
NNAMDIIs this because of the perception that this could still be a swing district? It used to be a Republican-held seat. You are now a Democrat. Republicans feel that they can take it back again.
DELANEYYou know, again, you know, I can't speak -- I know my opponent is kind of very active in the -- kind of the Tea Party movement. And I think there's a lot of, you know, supporters for that. Again, I can't speak to why people are supporting him. I can only speak to why they're supporting us.
SOMMERAnd you put some of your own money into your campaign, is that correct?
DELANEYYou know, I haven't really this election. When I first ran I did.
SOMMERWhat sort of Congress are we going to get if -- you know, I mean, certainly you raise your money through some businesses -- if the only people who can run for office and have a chance of succeeding are people who can afford to sort of spend personal fortunes on it?
DELANEYWell, I, you know, I don't think that's actually what the Congress is right now. Right? I don't think -- I think the overwhelming majority of people who are elected in this country -- and when I say overwhelming majority, well above 95 percent -- don't provide personal support of their races. So I don't think that's actually a relevant thing or relevant trend. And I don't think there's any data to support that.
DELANEYThat doesn't mean we don't need campaign finance reform, which we do. And that's whole other discussion about what's going on with Citizens United and the ability for large sums of money, which people don't even know who it is -- which is ridiculous that there's no transparency in the system -- coming in and kind of, you know, doing things for their own self-interest in these races. And, you know, I've been a big supporter of lots of campaign finance reform, allowing small donors to be more empowered.
DELANEYOne of my colleagues at the Maryland Congress, John Sarbanes, has a nice bill on that, which I'm a very active cosponsor of. I also have an election reform bill of my own that is getting a lot of attention, in terms of what it'll do to change state's ability to do the kind of district manipulation that we have. I mean, right now, 85 percent of the Congressional districts are not considered competitive, including mine.
NNAMDICorrect. Here is Eric, in Chevy Chase, Md. Eric, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ERICYeah, thank you, Congressman Delaney for being on the show. I just had a quick question. Your proposed solutions, how do they differentiate you, if at all, from your Democratic colleagues?
DELANEYSo, Eric, my proposed solution to…
ERICWell, focusing on jobs, for example.
DELANEYWell, again, I think as someone who's spent my whole career in the private sector, staring two businesses here in Maryland and creating a couple thousand jobs, I think, you know, and I had to live through all that stuff, starting a business, worrying about raising capital, worrying about getting financing, worrying about making payroll, worrying about getting a big contract that could make or break your business, worrying about irrational competition, all the stuff that happens in a real private economy, I think I really understand that.
DELANEYAnd -- but I do it through a lens of really carrying about working people. I mean, I grew up -- my dad was union electrician. My parents didn't go to college. You know, I understand that the backbone of this country is middle skilled, middle class workers. And so what I'm trying to is take my experience as an entrepreneur, as a business person who understands how the private economy works, and, you know, use that to create policies that'll really help working Americans.
DELANEYAnd I think that does distinguish me. It also makes me less partisan, quite frankly, because in the private sector it's about solutions. It's not about ranting and raving. You actually get measured by getting things done, which is, you know, the approach that I've had in the Congress.
NNAMDIHere's Diane, in Germantown, Md. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEHi. Thank you. What I'm -- was interested in finding out about is because Congressman Delaney did start from the bottom raising capital and bringing up business -- a couple of businesses to fruition, I wonder what his perspective on -- and the importance of diversity in the workplace is?
NNAMDIAnd how do you promote that as a member of Congress?
DELANEYWell, you promote that through smart policies. Like one of the areas that I've worked on really hard because I think it's important and also because I happen to have four daughters, is making sure women receive equal pay for equal work. And, you know, I'm a big supporter of the legislation in the House that will do that, in the Congress that'll do that. Right now women get paid about 70 percent of what men do for the same jobs. That, you know, and it's more concerning if you look what's going on in corporate ladder, you know, as promotions occur women fall behind.
DELANEYThe same is obviously true for other populations of our society who -- where success is not as broadly shared. And so diversity is really important. I mean, my businesses, we were always given awards for best places to work in the Washington area, Washingtonian Magazine would routinely list us because we really cared about our workforce. And we really cared about investing in our people, make sure they had educational opportunities, make sure they had a good environment and make sure they were paid well.
DELANEYBut as important to that was diversity. Right? Because businesses can't compete unless they reflect the broad set of values and broad set of cultural interests and broad orientations that exist in our society. And we're enriched. If you go back over time, every time we've embraced more quality and more diversity, in the fullness of time we've looked back and said total right answer. And so I think it's true and that's why, you know, one of the…
NNAMDIYou left those two successful businesses to run for Congress. You participated in one of the most divisive Congresses in the history of the United States. What makes you want to go back?
DELANEYFirst of all, I love the job. I think it's a privilege to serve the country. I'm actually more optimistic about our country now having served in government than I even was in the private sector. You know, I just think the facts favor the optimist. You think about what's happening in our country and around the world, listen, when I got out of high school 30 years ago, about 70 percent of the countries in the world were considered impoverished. Now, it's a little over 20 percent. So to think that everything that's happened in the world hasn't been net positive, I think is just not looking at the facts right.
DELANEYBut there is a missed opportunity. And I really worry about what's going on with the middle class of this country. How the macro trends in the world, kind of globalization and technological innovation are causing us only to create high-skill/high-pay and low-skill/low-pay jobs. And if we don't rebuild the middle class, if we don't focus on jobs for those people, we're going to lose the people that really built the country, save the country and arguably save the world. And I think someone who's been in a private economy, but really understands what I would consider to be kind of core progressive values, I think is really needed in the Congress. So, you know…
NNAMDISo, you're going to do it again. Will Sommer…
NNAMDI…you get the last question.
SOMMERSure. So a little bit later we're going to talking about D.C.'s potential legalization of marijuana. You know, in the same way the District always looked at -- clamped down on handguns, but they crossed the borders from Maryland and Virginia, are you concerned that if the District legalizes growing marijuana you're going to see a flood of marijuana up to Maryland?
DELANEYNo. I'm not really concerned about that. I mean, look it, I think there's a lot of positive behind the legalization, decriminalization trends in this country. And so I'm supportive, directionally, where those are going. So I don't think what's going on in D.C. is somehow going to be a big problem for Maryland.
NNAMDIJohn Delaney is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a Democrat representing Maryland's 6th District. It includes parts of Montgomery County, Frederick County and western Maryland. He is up for reelection this fall. Congressman Delaney, thank you for joining us. Good luck to you.
DELANEYThank you, Kojo. It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Will.
NNAMDIOur guest analyst is Will Sommer. He's the "Loose Lips" columnist for City Paper. Up next, a debate over the initiative that you'll see if you happen to be a D.C. voter, Initiative 71 on your ballot come November 4th, that would -- if you favor it -- lead to the legalization of marijuana in the District. You can start calling with your questions now, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Will Sommer, describe for our listeners the upside down, D.C. flag debacle.
SOMMEROh, wow, this is a -- a debacle is right. So the Board of Elections already plagued by all sorts of -- WAMU News reported on, you know, the voting machines are out of date, it took them forever on primary night to get the results. Well, this is just another embarrassment for them. They came out with the voters' guide over the weekend for the District, but the D.C. flag was upside down. And when…
NNAMDIIt was not a -- wasn't it a clever ploy to attract voter attention?
SOMMERThat's originally what they said, which, frankly, if you believe that, I mean, you have the -- the voters' guide is not a joke book. So that's what they said.
NNAMDIWe've got a bridge in Brooklyn you can sell -- you can buy.
SOMMERExactly. And eventually they did admit that they just screwed up.
NNAMDIWard 8 mayoral debate, two nights ago -- or was that last night?
NNAMDILast night Ward 8 mayoral debate in Anacostia at Anacostia High School. It got a little emotional, especially on the part of the crowd, did it not?
SOMMERIt was rowdy. I mean, I don't think you can find a mayoral debate that's going to have any hecklers, but this was quite one, you know, the debate was derailed for a couple minutes, the candidates were begging the audience to calm down. It was certainly a rowdy night.
NNAMDIWell, it was an emotional night. What do you think led to that outpouring of emotion? Was it because of the location where it was held? Was it because of the way in which it was organized? Which one -- or what else?
SOMMERYou know, I think there are certain, you know, Ward 8 is -- there are a lot of strong feelings around politics in the Ward. It's a very strong activist tradition. Additionally, you know, we're coming on -- I don't know -- 16 months or so of a mayoral race. Lots of hard feelings.
NNAMDIYeah, it's been one of the longest races ever. I frankly cannot wait for it to end. But before it ends there has to be some further discussion of the initiative on the ballot having to do with marijuana. D.C. residents will soon be casting votes on that ballot measure that would legalize marijuana in the nation's capital. They'll decide the fate of so-called Initiative 71 with a simple yes or no vote.
NNAMDIBut the measure itself and the debate surrounding it isn't exactly so simple. I71 would make it legal to possess marijuana in the District, as well as to grow small amounts of it. It would not, however, make it legal to buy or sell it. And it would not, in the short term, make D.C. the next Colorado or Washington State, where full-scale legalization is underway and where legal marijuana economies are alive and seem to be booming.
NNAMDIWe're joined today by two men who take opposing positions on I71. I should add that while we're calling this a debate, it's really more of a conversation. So we're going to ditch first of the -- we're going to ditch some of the formalities here. Joining me in studio is Will Jones. He is the founder of Two Is Enough D.C., which opposes the initiative. Will Jones, thank you for joining us.
MR. WILL JONESThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Malik Burnett. He is the vice chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign, which is in favor of the initiative. Malik Burnett, thank you for joining us.
MR. MALIK BURNETTThanks for having me. I'm a huge fan.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for either of these two gentlemen, give us a call at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com, go to our website, kojoshow.org, watch the live video stream, see what our panelists and our guest analyst look like. Hopefully you won't see me. Malik, the District has already moved to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. This was done, in part, to curtail racial disparities in marijuana address. Why do you feel it's necessary to take things a step farther with this initiative?
BURNETTThat's a great question. So when we are looking at the effect of decriminalization, even though it's early months, we are seeing the metropolitan police data and 77 percent of the tickets that have been written in the District of Columbia have been written in communities of color. And, you know, what we're seeing is that the discrimination continues in spite of the fact that we have gone on to decriminalize marijuana and we have one of the most progressive decriminalization policies in the country.
BURNETTAnd so what we are talking about right now in the November election is, is removing the criminal penalties completely from marijuana and voting to end marijuana prohibition in the District of Columbia.
NNAMDIWhat in your full view is this initiative a step toward? Is this part of a long term process that you and other supporters are following for wider legalization of marijuana here in the District?
BURNETTThat is correct. This initiative is the first step towards removing marijuana from the criminal justice system. The D.C. Council is currently considering a tax and regulate bill. They are having a hearing on October 30th to being to understand the implications of what taxation and regulation of marijuana looks like. And so this is an opportunity for the voters to show that they support the move to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system.
NNAMDIWill Jones, the name of your group expresses your feeling that D.C. would -- or should draw the line with alcohol and tobacco. Why is your case -- well, what is your case for why marijuana is a bridge too far?
JONESI think if we look in communities in D.C. -- and actually across the nation -- you're going to see a disproportionate amount of liquor stores, cigarette advertising in minority communities. And of concern is that with the legalization of marijuana in D.C. we're going to see, really, two is enough -- which is why we've taken that name -- looking at the devastating impact of alcohol and tobacco on our communities. Marijuana is the last thing that we need to have legalized, to have a third recreational legal drug.
SOMMERSure. So, Will, I'm interested in, you know, obviously your campaign's based around the dangers of drugs. If you were talking to someone who, say, smokes marijuana, say, twice a week, casually, you know, what -- how would you convince them to stop? I mean, what are the actual dangers? Because certainly I'm not familiar with what the dangers are.
JONESYeah, a lot of it depends on your age, but the research has come out that it's -- and this is categorizing a regular user as once a week -- and this was recently by the American Psychiatry Association symposium they had in D.C. in August, showing that even casual use, defined as once a week, can lead to a significant reduction in memory, cognitive loss, brain changes, different things like this, increase risk of mental health cases, and especially among youth addiction and further brain damage. And so of huge concern is the increase in youth use, too, that we'll see in legalization.
SOMMERDo you think there really will be an increase in youth use, though? Because, I mean, right now, if you're a teenager in D.C. I'm sure you can -- it would take you 10 minutes to get some marijuana right now.
JONESYeah, and I'd say but let's look at your tax and regulate marijuana like we do alcohol. And I say, does anyone really think that that's going to have a beneficial impact on society? I mean, that kids can get alcohol very easily as well, especially on college campuses. Binge drinking is a problem. And so to say that when your parents, your older brother have more access -- because at a minimum people acknowledge that adult use of marijuana will increase.
JONESAnd to say when your parents or older brother have marijuana in the home, that that's going to have less access for kids, that -- I don't understand that logic. And we've seen that in places that have changed their marijuana laws. In the Netherlands, in the U.K. they saw -- the Netherlands saw an increase in addiction from 15 percent to 14 percent (sic) when they changed the marijuana laws. The U.K. saw an increase in youth addiction and in mental health cases as well. And Colorado -- I know this is going to be debated, but there's been an increase in youth use as well.
NNAMDIMalik Burnett, you are a medical doctor, even though you're not a scientific researcher, but from what you have seen of the research what do you make of the claim that Will Jones is making, that marijuana will have an adverse effect on its users?
BURNETTI think that statement is highly overblown. If you look at the actual research here around states that have implemented marijuana reform, whether it be medical or recreational, youth use has actually gone down. And you have to ask yourself why that is because, as Will Sommer correctly stated, marijuana is already in our society. And so what we need to do is to be able to control the supply and understand who is getting marijuana and be able to ensure that the people who are getting it are of age because what is crystal clear is that drug dealers don't have any incentive to check any IDs.
NNAMDIYou're listening to a debate on Initiative 71, which will be on the ballot in the District of Columbia on November 4 that would legalize the use of marijuana in the district. We're talking with Malik Burnett. He is the vice chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign. Will Jones is the founder of Two Is Enough, which opposes the initiative. And our guest analyst is Will Sommer. He is the Loose Lips columnist for Washington City Paper.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can also go to our website, kojoshow.org, ask a question, make a comment there, watch the live video stream. Let's start with John in Washington, D.C. John, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNHi. I run a number of businesses in the district, and I'm kind of interested in this proposal for the same reason that I found the craft beer, you know, boom kind of interesting. It seems like there's a growing number of entrepreneurs and, you know, restaurants and small business owners who are involved. But D.C. is not an easy place to deal with the bureaucracy in government and in particular when dealing with things like getting liquor licenses and such.
JOHNAnd so I'm wondering, kind of as a long-term proposal, you know, what else would need to be done in order to change the D.C. laws in order to make them more accessible to people so that, you know, if this does happen, it's not just, you know, large restaurant chains or large, you know, manufacturers who are involved? There could be some economic...
NNAMDIWell, it depends on what you are talking about does happen. If this initiative is passed, it will not legalize the sale of marijuana in the District of Columbia. It would only legalize the possession. You want to take it to the next -- what Malik Burnett would say was the next logical step. So I'll have him address that.
BURNETTSure, so what we are actually doing, so I also am the policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, in addition to the...
NNAMDIYou're a hired gun, sent into town to help promote this initiative.
BURNETTI think that's a mischaracterization of the facts, but...
NNAMDI(laugh) Okay, say what the facts are.
BURNETTThe facts are -- is that my organization, Drug Policy Alliance, along with other community organizations, are working with the D.C. Council to actually create a tax and regulate system that would be historic both in the nation and very much centered on social and economic justice. So that's being intentional about including people who have been previously harmed by policies of prohibition with criminal records and having them be able to participate in the marijuana economy.
NNAMDIHow about taking it one step farther, as John wants to know?
NNAMDISo that if there is regulation and sale in the District of Columbia, it won't be confined to very large businesses?
BURNETTAbsolutely. So what we want to do is we want to be able to empower small businesses to be able to participate in this. We don't want to have a situation where the ability for an individual to start a business is -- the barriers to entry to get into business is incredibly high. So we don't want to have, you know, incredibly high licensing fees. We want to be able to ensure that the smalltime businessman is able to participate in this entity.
BURNETTAnd to be particularly important, we want to be able to make sure that the people who have been harmed by this, these policies of prohibition, that means people in communities of color are able to participate in this industry. So we're going to be working with the D.C. Council to set up a regulatory regime that ultimately will come to play after tax and regulate takes...
SOMMERSure. Picking up on that, Will, so the -- it seems, though, the tradeoff isn't, I mean, we're not arguing over whether marijuana should exist. Obviously it does.
SOMMERI mean, do you think the tradeoff, and I wouldn't disagree with you that -- the idea that more teenagers, more underage people, you know, if we have farms making marijuana, it's going to be more -- easier for them to access. Do you think the tradeoff of, you know, the incarceration, the racially biased incarceration, do you think what we would eliminate with that is worse than the risk of more people smoking marijuana?
JONESI'm really glad that you brought that up because I think for most people, especially in the African-American community in D.C. and across the nation, I think race has been a huge motivator for people to say, you know, we should legalize marijuana because the African-American population has been really decimated by the disproportionate targeting of us in the enforcement of drug laws.
JONESAnd so this is of huge concern, especially in D.C. It was an eight-to-one ratio that if you're African-American that you'd be arrested for using marijuana versus if you were white, even though the use, studies showed, was about the same. And first I want to say that that is -- that's deplorable. The fact that there is that type of racism and discrimination in the criminal justice system needs to be dealt with. But I also want to say that legalization of marijuana is not going to deal with the deeper issues that we're seeing across the nation in racism that need to be addressed.
JONESAnd it's really a distraction from that, especially in D.C., where it has been decriminalized already. You can no longer be arrested or have an arrest record for that, and if you do, you can have that sealed, you can have that record sealed. The council just passed legislation that will allow you to seal that.
JONESAnd in D.C. specifically, D.C. should be the last place to legalize, if this is a good thing, which for health reasons and other reasons I can't get into now, I think it's bad, but D.C. should be the last because we're on -- there's so much federal land in D.C. that even if the district itself says it's legal, you're still going to see people, and a higher amount of people because more people will be using it, arrested on federal land and property because for there, it's not legal yet. So you're going to see an increase in arrests, and it's not going to deal with the root issue, which is what needs to be dealt with.
NNAMDIMalik Burnett, you wanted to respond?
BURNETTSure. I want to address this because what I think Mr. Jones is doing is being highly disingenuous. He is talking about the fact that he may believe that the arrest rates are deplorable, but the organization that is backing his group, Project SAM, has already come out and vociferously fought against the decriminalization of the district when organizations were working towards decriminalizing marijuana in the district.
BURNETTMr. Jones has a presentation that he walks around and presents in the community where he questions the benefits of medical marijuana. So when he's talking about all these issues about how, you know, he is, you know, saddened by the fact that there's a deplorable amount of arrest rates in the District of Columbia, it's really not true. He goes around and talks about all these sort of things, and then while at the same time promoting ways for us to remove marijuana from the criminal justice system.
BURNETTAnd so I think that, you know, we need to have an open and honest dialogue. It would be much better if he just came out and said that, you know, I'm opposed...
NNAMDIWill Jones, are you opposed to the fact that marijuana was decriminalized in the District of Columbia?
JONESNo, I'm not, and I’m not opposed to medical marijuana, either. And we receive no financial backing at all from SAM or any other organization. I do admit that I consult with people that are, that are opposed to legalization because I like to -- you know, no need to reinvent the wheel. So when I can find facts about what's going to happen through legalization, I will go to whatever sources those are to get advice. But there's no partnership, no backing of any sort by any official organization, SAM or anything else.
JONESAnd so not -- I also have said very often that I support the medicinal -- research in the medicinal properties of marijuana because there's many people that need that. And so I am not exactly sure what a doctor...
NNAMDIHere is Matt in eastern Pennsylvania. Matt, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MATTHi, I'm a college student in Easton. I live in D.C. I've lived in D.C. all my life. And I want to talk about adolescence and marijuana usage. I think that legalizing in Washington will take it out of the adolescents for two ways. One, you'll get the dealers off the streets, you know, there won't be -- you'll have to go to the shop to go get marijuana. And two, it won't be this, I don't think it'll be the same system where, you know, if adolescents are looking for this illicit substance they will go to their friends who are over 21 and try to get it.
MATTI think the illegality of it is so ingrained in people that it'll take time to be able to say okay, yeah, I'll get for this underage kid. You know, so it'll get them -- it won't allow them, adolescents, to have it, or those under 21.
NNAMDIIt will be less accessible to those under 21 if it is legalized than it is now, says Matt. What say you, Will Jones?
JONESI say again, we've take taken the name Two is Enough. If anybody looks, especially in the African-American community, I don't think a lot of people are going to buy that. You see alcohol, cigarettes being sold on the street, different things like that. To say that really if there's all of a sudden an industry, and we've talked a lot at the beginning of the show about the industry, there was even a call, someone called in about that, and to say that somehow people that are making money off of more people using marijuana that there's not going to be an increase in the sale of marijuana, that means more marijuana around, and to say it's less going to be -- less availability is I think really just a drop in logic.
NNAMDIBut wouldn't it make the law enforcement aspect of it simpler and more effective for law enforcement in that they would know exactly who to target?
JONESAgain, I think that D.C., of all places, is the last place because again, the federal law still does not -- marijuana is not legal by that, and so we're still going to run into a lot of complications with that.
SOMMERSo your campaign is called Two Is Enough, the idea that liquor and cigarettes are also harmful. You know, if Will Jones was king for the day, would you -- and you could only -- because it strikes me that alcohol is much more harmful than marijuana. So would you outlaw alcohol, as well, if you could?
JONESI think that there's a categorical difference between alcohol and marijuana in that alcohol, you can use it in a proportion that does not, that does not impair you at all. For example, for a special occasion, wedding or something, I get, you know, a half a glass of...
NNAMDII'm glad you said wedding or something because everything I read about you said that you only drink at weddings. So I figured you don't drink at birthday parties, you don't drink at engagement parties.
JONESActually no, I'm not saying I wouldn't, but for me, when I have (unintelligible) at weddings and stuff like that, might be hyperbole...
NNAMDIWe got an email from Charles, who says "Will Jones says binge drinking still happens on college campuses, so marijuana should be illegal. Does Will Jones support alcohol prohibition? Does he know that people who are of legal drinking age also attend college?"
JONESAnd I can't support prohibition, again we tried that, and that's because there was already an industry, which again is my major concern. There is already an industry, and so you can't roll back the clock. We saw what happened when we tried that with alcohol in the past. But here, we are -- we have the opportunity to stop an industry, which again we heard at the beginning of the show people lots of people already looking into this.
JONESThere's a conference here in the D.C. area, $500 a ticket, to learn how to get into the industry. And this is what we're going to see.
NNAMDIMalik Burnett, you haven't had the opportunity to talk about community impact. The two of you take opposite views about how legalizing marijuana will affect communities here. We have heard Will Jones, particularly young, black residents here. What's the case you're making?
BURNETTSure. What I think we need to do is to take the revenue generated from the taxation of marijuana and be very intentional about earmarking it for the redevelopment of communities of color. That, you know, can be in providing funding for education on responsible marijuana use. That can be used for funding for providing affordable housing in the district, which is a major problem here in the nation's capital.
BURNETTI think that there's a lot of opportunities to use the revenue here because, let's face it, the District of Columbia has a budget surplus. So the revenue that would be, one, saved, around $26 million from police continuously enforcing marijuana laws, and then, two, the revenue generated from the sale of marijuana could be effectively used to redevelop the community. And then we could really begin to talk about restorative and economic justice, which I think is very important.
NNAMDIWill Sommer? There are two Wills here. I have to make a distinction.
SOMMERSo, of course you know, it's not just up to D.C. residents whether marijuana is legalized. Congress could step in. What do you think the chances are for a congressional intervention?
BURNETTI'm glad that you asked that because this has been a point of discussion in the local news media. And so I want to clarify the record. So because this is a voter initiative, Congress has only two ways to interfere with this. One, they can pass a resolution of disapproval through the House, which means that, you know, they would have to get a majority of the members of the House to vote against it. That would also have to occur within the Senate. And then the president would have to sign that.
BURNETTAnd, you know, I don't necessarily think, given all the other issues that are going on in Congress, you know, ISIS and the Ebola crisis and all those sort of things, I don' necessarily think that that is within the purview of the time of the Congress to be interfering with the district. I also want to say that, you know, district residents are tired of having their democracy under threat. So I think that this is highly -- just as much as it is about ending marijuana prohibition, it's very much about, you know, having the district be able to determine its own rights and be able to determine its own policies for the people.
BURNETTAnd then the second way that Congress could interfere is potentially through an appropriations rider, which we already know has come into fruition. But what we are hearing from members of the Senate is that they're not going to be able to -- they're not going to include that appropriations rider in their budget. But even more broadly, the sad state of affairs of the Congress is that they haven't passed a budget in the past six years. So the likelihood of them passing a budget in the lame duck seems highly, very, very unlikely.
NNAMDIAll of that said, Will Sommer, one of the reasons you are here is because of your own expert analysis. On a scale of one to 10, what do you think the likelihood is that Congress will intervene?
SOMMERI think Malik's right. I mean, I think we've seen, you know, Rep. Andy Harris from Maryland tried to get in on the district's marijuana laws earlier this year, and Congress just doesn't work together on this sort of thing, or at all.
BURNETTAnd I also want to say that, you know, my organization, the Drug Policy Alliance, has actually organized five pro-marijuana votes within the House of Representatives this year. So marijuana policy reform is moving at the federal level. The White House has even come out and said that they believe marijuana policy reform is a states' rights issue. So I think that there's definitely positive movement on the federal level, and a vote yes on Initiative 71 will continue to move that, given the fact that this is the nation's capital.
NNAMDIWill Jones, how do you feel about the issue of the District of Columbia controlling its own affairs if this legislation, if this initiative is voted in favorably by the voters? Would you want Congress to intervene?
JONESFrom a health and societal impact standpoint, yes. And I don't want to bring in -- I know there's widely varying views on the self-rule and -- not self-rule but the Congress' involvement in what D.C. does. And I think that's a bigger issue, and I don't want to mix up the two. I think that's something that needs to be addressed. It's its own category. Now again from a purely impact on what we're going to see with youth and families and in African-American communities with the legalization of marijuana, from that perspective I would wish that Congress did something.
SOMMERSo would you go to -- like let's say this passes? I mean, would you go to Congress and lobby congressmen to overturn this bill?
JONESRight now I'm focusing on hoping that it doesn't pass.
NNAMDIOkay, because if you do, the voting rights movement will try to run you out of town. Here is Abby (sp?) in Laurel, Maryland. Abby, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ABBYHi, I had a question regarding the regulation of marijuana sales. And from what I understand from the legalization proponents is that they wanted marijuana to be legalized and run through stores. Is that true?
ABBYOkay, so my question was black men are always kind of used as a reason for marijuana legalization. And my question is what is going to happen to those men who sell marijuana without it being regulated? When you're looking at New York, the death of Eric Garner, he was harassed because he was selling untaxed cigarettes. So my question is that, are those men still going to be arrested and sent to jail? Are they basically -- it's basically, you know, just a richer marijuana...
NNAMDIAnybody who is selling anything illegally on the street, regardless of it's before or after this passes, is likely to be arrested. But we don't want to necessarily compare that to what happened in New York, where a man was killed for this.
ABBYYes, I know, but my whole thing is basically they're getting arrested for selling marijuana, whereas other, bigger, corporate...
NNAMDIBut once it's regulated, once it's regulated, street sales will be illegal. But allow me to have Malik Burnett address that.
BURNETTI think that the caller's concerns are absolutely right. I think what we want to do is to be able to create opportunities for those same individuals who are on the street selling marijuana to be able to participate in the marijuana economy. In Colorado and Washington, they have been shut out of the marijuana economy due to the fact that they have provisions which do that.
BURNETTAnd what, you know, is a relatively controversial topic is, but I want to actually talk about here, is that the fact that the people who are in communities of color are shut out of the normal economy, and so sometimes they have to turn to illegal, illicit street sales in order to provide resources for themselves. And what we want to do is to be able to...
NNAMDIMake them a part of the legal economy.
NNAMDIWe only have about 30 seconds left, Will Jones. What say you?
JONESI want to say that we don't have a track record of doing that. And of course it has -- you have to say that to get this through. There's money behind this. Even, you know, if you trace the money behind the legalization campaigns across the nation, including in D.C., you're going to see that -- just Google George Soros, Drug Policy Alliance, different things like that, and you're going to say that it's really the bottom line is...
NNAMDIYou'll say the same thing about their money.
BURNETTTheir money is backed by big pharma, who has a track record of hooking people to prescription painkillers and ultimately causing...
NNAMDIAnd there it is. You get the opportunity to vote on November 4. Malik Burnett is the vice chair of the D.C. Cannabis Campaign. Thank you for joining us.
BURNETTThank you for having me.
NNAMDIWill Jones is the founder of Two Is Enough D.C. Thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Will Sommer is our guest analyst, Loose Lips columnist for Washington City Paper. Thank you for joining us.
SOMMERIt was great being here. Thank you.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIComing up Monday on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," the value of fiction. The author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" says Americans neglect literature in schools at our peril. Azar Nafisi joins us. Then at 1:00, top tech companies admit they've shortchanged minorities. We explore how unconscious bias affects every day decisions, "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," noon 'til 2:00 Monday on WAMU, 88.5 and streaming at kojoshow.org.
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