Drug Policy

Mike Gravel and His Online Teens Want Weed in the Constitution

It's an unconventional approach befitting of an unconventional presidential candidate.


Most people would be hard-pressed to remember every candidate who showed up at last month's two-night Democratic presidential debate, must less the candidates who didn't appear. But one contender who did not make the qualifying threshold was Mike Gravel, the 89-year-old former Alaskan senator. And all things considered, Gravel is pretty memorable: What he lacks in name recognition, he makes up for with an unorthodox and deliberately outrageous approach to politics. (His campaign, for example, is being run by two teenagers.)

Now the former senator is proposing a constitutional amendment to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, thus legalizing it recreationally on the federal level. It's an unconventional approach to drug reform befitting of an unconventional presidential candidate, but Gravel argues that it would be the easiest way given the current congressional gridlock.

"Congress hasn't done anything at this point in time, and it's tough to realize whether we're looking at another year, two years," he tells Reason. "From my experience in the Congress, they could pretty well screw it up, and this is already unbelievably screwed up. We could immediately get a law passed in the next 30 days, but we've been waiting 30 days for the past three years."

In times past, constitutional amendments have been implemented with a two-thirds vote of approval in both the House and the Senate, which then must be ratified by three-fourths of the states. But Gravel acknowledges that his plan would be a near-impossible sell if Republicans maintain control of the Senate. In that case, he says, he would take advantage of a second avenue—a constitutional convention—in which 34 states would need to gather on their own accord and agree to adopt the amendment. That route has never before been used.

Gravel compares the harmful effects of marijuana bans to the harmful effects of alcohol Prohibition. And Prohibition, he reminds us, was repealed by constitutional amendment—though only because it started with one. The 21st Amendment nullified the 18th.

"It's an option is really what I'm saying," says Gravel. The candidate doesn't rule out the chance that Congress could act—in fact, he muses that the pressure of a convention could force lawmakers to come together. But he doubts that would happen. And even it if does, he worries about the poison pills and bargaining chips that could pollute the legislation.

However it pans out, Gravel sees federal action as a necessary way forward. The current state-by-state approach is a "mess," he says, "promulgated by the fact that the federal Damocles hangs over" their heads. (When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions took office, he threatened to crack down on marijuana using federal jurisdiction, even in states that legalized it.) Gravel also rails against sky-high pot taxes, which he says have sometimes "been so horrendous that people have stayed with the underground supply rather than the legal supply." Schedule 1 substances are subject to heavy federal income taxation, as the government prohibits (fully legal) state businesses of the weed variety from deducting a slew of business expenses. So his amendment also declares that the drug will be regulated like alcohol and tobacco.

While Gravel limits the proposed amendment to marijuana, he supports the decriminalization of all drugs. "We treat all of these drugs as criminal problems," he explains. "They're not. They're public health problems." He speaks fondly of the approach taken by Portugal, a fairly conservative country that in 2001 decriminalized all illicit substances, including heroin and cocaine. Drug trafficking there is still a criminal offense, but those caught with less than a 10-day supply get no more than a slap on the wrist—a fine, for instance. The problem is otherwise considered a medical one, where individuals meet with a local commission to discuss possible treatment options. The method has been widely successful, with the nation seeing a decrease in overdoses, drug-related crime, HIV infections, and adolescent drug use.

Gravel hopes his amendment will help put the U.S. on track to something like the Portuguese model. "Once you see the success of cannabis and addressing that problem in society, then society matures with these experiences and reacts differently," the former senator says. "If we were to succeed with this, then I think it would really lead to a legislative approach."

Although the campaign recently announced that it might be coming to an end in the near future, it received new life with a fundraising plea made by Marianne Williamson—a fellow contender for the Democratic nomination—on Gravel's behalf, putting him in striking distance of the 65,000-donor threshold required to make the July debates. (At the time of this writing, he is less than 3,000 short.) If it doesn't happen, he concedes that he won't be heartbroken. His campaign, he says, was less about ascending to the Oval Office and more about starting a conversation about the issues—something that only became a reality when David Oks and Henry Williams, the two teens at the heart of his effort, urged him to run.

"Do you realize how old I am?" he asked the boys when they approached him.

"Doesn't make any difference," they replied. "It's the positions you have on the issues that are so vital to communicate."

In addition to drug reform, Gravel wants to cut military spending in half. He also supports single-payer health care and calls for the abolition of private insurance companies.

The deadline to qualify for the next Democratic debate is July 16. If Gravel makes it, his appearance will represent a major shift in his campaign—and not just because he'll have a big platform for an evening. Up until now, he has not left his house in the pursuit of his 2020 ambitions. And until the next debate, he plans to stay put.

"No party's gonna carry me other than these kids," he says, referring to Oks and Williams. "But I'm gonna have a patio campaign. I'm gonna sit on my patio, and see what happens."

NEXT: Donald Trump Doesn't Think 'the Mainstream Media Is Free Speech'

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  1. Would someone tell these dum-dums that weed is already legal in the US Constitution. Its legal because there is no enumerated power to ban products and services. The Controlled substances Act which was used to ban weed is void for being uncosntitutional.

    Weed was perfectly legal at the time of the signing of the Constitution, BTW. So was every other substance. Hemp, made from marijuana plants, was used by sailors for a long time before 1789.

    Reason never discusses this point of constitutional law. Likely because it prevents government from doing anything but minor interstate regulation of drugs as per the Commerce Clause. I have found No state currently has a provision that allows banning products and services, so even state bans of weed are unconstitutional.

    1. I’m pretty sure Reason has commented on federal drug laws being unconstitutional. How often do they need to repeat that to satisfy you?
      The fact is that courts have (wrongly in my view) decided that federal drug laws are OK. As have most supposedly constitution respecting conservatives. And the Constitution is powerless to stop them, apparently. A new amendment clarifying what does and does not fall under federal jurisdiction seems like it might be necessary, even if it shouldn’t be. Maybe something that says that the commerce clause only applies to transactions that actually cross state lines too.

      1. But the resolution proposed doesn’t say any of that.

        1. No, it doesn’t. But I’ve long thought that the constitution could stand to be a bit more explicit about certain things.

      2. reason mentions “Orange Man bad” in every one of their articles relating to him. reason could mention the unconstitutionality of drug laws in every article they do.

        1. Maybe they think it’s obvious. I don’t think many regular readers disagree.
          Do you think there is some nefarious purpose here, or do yo ujust like bitching when magazines don’t write about exactly what you want them to write about.

          1. Do you think there is some nefarious purpose here

            You say this like every third article one Reason writer or another doesn’t let the mask slip. Kudos to them for holding the mask up the other 95% of the time and not being cravenly anti-libertarian I suppose, right?

            1. and not being cravenly anti-libertarian

              And this is generously looking past the frequency with which they take some stances so cravenly anti-libertarian I don’t even think the NYT would publish them.

              1. they take some stances so cravenly anti-libertarian I don’t even think the NYT would publish them

                What do you have in mind here?

                1. Process crimes absent a underlying crime as long as the target is someone they dont like.

                  Credible rape charges absent evidence.

                2. What do you have in mind here?

                  About half the stuff Shikha’s written, though I could imagine the NYT publishing some of that. Even avoiding her, there’s still plenty of “If rural America is so under-served, why don’t they just move?”-type articles to be had.

            2. I don’t think they let the mask slip. OK, maybe a few of the writers who just see Reason as a step on the way to a bigger career do.
              But, as I have sad several times, I think most of the long term Reason people are sincere. They just aren’t all hard-core libertarians.
              What would the purpose be of spending your career pretending to be a libertarian?
              I can fully see why some might think that they aren’t all very good libertarians. Or be annoyed by some of their cultural biases. I don’t see why people think they are being dishonest.
              And at least in the case of the war on drugs and its constitutionality, they are very consistent.

              1. What would be the purpose of spending your entire career being a RINO?

                It is their career. They find a niche lying and it pays something to keep doing it.

                Numerous actual Libertarians fled this shithole magazine because they were sick of the LINO bullshit. Some people let Anarchists get away with claiming to be Libertarians.

                Anyone who cannot tell a Libertarian from a LINO is just not interested in what Libertarianism is. These LINOs give it away every time they open their mouths. Same thing with RINOs. I am sure Lefties see right thru that one person…ever… who faked being a DINO. Oh wait, that was Trump and Lefties never saw that coming.

    2. I have found No state currently has a provision that allows banning products and services, so even state bans of weed are unconstitutional.

      It is my understanding that states are, unlike the federal government whose powers are specifically enumerated, assumed to have general policing powers and don’t need constitutionally explicit grants of authority to do things like criminalize certain substances. Unless, of course, their constitutions say so.

      I’d like it to be as you say, but I don’t think it is.

      1. States dont have plenary powers. States powers are derived from the US Constitution and their respective state constitutions.

        States gave up absolute power by joining the United States of America.

        1. States powers are derived from the US Constitution

          I think it’s the other way round.

          And no one’s powers are derived from a constitution. Constitutions are documents codifying what powers a government should have and (ideally) limiting those powers. Power comes from some combination of willingness to use violence and consent of the governed.
          State governments are limited to some extent by the federal constitution, but outside of those specific limitations, states are pretty free to legislate as they will (within the bounds of their constitutions, which do not have the enumerated powers limitations of the federal).

          1. This explains a lot Zeb.

            The original 13 States get their power from their state Constitutions after seceding from the Crown. Then those 13 states decided to form a Constitutional Democratic Republic and gave some of the state powers plus new powers to the federal government. Those states lost some power in that.

            Our federal government exists because of the US Constitution. Articles I, II, and III, V, VI, VII create the power, lay out the amendment processes, and describe the legal justification for the powers. Article IV describes the powers and restrictions on the states.

            1. No, even as they were rebelling against the Crown, the states took their authority from whatever was the latest charter they had as colonies. In some cases they were just amalgamations of land grants. In the Dominion of New England, I don’t know whether they had a new deal or reverted to older ones when the Dominion was dissolved. (By the way, that was the first American revolution. Expectations by many at the time of the later one that we call the Revolution were that it would be resolved similarly, i.e. short of independence by reversion to an earlier form. When independence was declared, the colonies were left holding an empty bag that they pretended still to be full of authority.)

              1. I mean… you’re not even trying.

    3. Reason has been saying this for years.


      “By “regulate,” of course, Rivkin and Foley mean “ban,” and it is important to keep in mind that alcohol prohibitionists went to a great deal of trouble to amend the Constitution back in 1919 because they took it for granted that Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce did not include the power to ban intoxicants. The Commerce Clause has not changed since then, but the Supreme Court’s understanding of it has, to the point that it can be stretched to accommodate almost any congressional whim. Consistent federalists and sincere constitutionalists should resist this super-elastic reading of the Commerce Clause.”

      1. You had to back 4.5 years to find something?

  2. Now the former senator is proposing a constitutional amendment to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, thus legalizing it recreationally on the federal level.

    Why is it that I don’t like putting such specific, in-the-moment ideals as amendments in the constitution. It would be like the original framers putting in things like “oil lamps, muskets and handbills from a Franklin Press” in there.

    1. Half the contents of the state constitutions of US states read with such specificity. That’s why many of them are very long.

      1. That’s why all modern constitutions are a dog’s breakfast.

        Do you remember that European constitution they tried about fifteen years ago? Good lord that was awful. Pages upon pages. Shit, I think their list of “protected classes” was longer than our bill of rights.

        1. A list of the ingredients of water is longer than the rights we have left.

    2. There’s nothing “in-the-moment” about the basic freedom to choose what you want to do with your own body and mind.

      1. That’s not even close to my point. Do we need another constitutional amendment for Aspirin and Menthol cigarettes?

        1. Yeah, exceedingly dumb that he’s not re-codifying the standards by which all substances will be scheduled going forward or even removing all scheduling powers from the DEA or even trying to dissolve the DEA entirely.

          Shouldn’t let the great be the enemy of the good, but if you’re wishing in one hand and shitting in the other you should at least wish for something a lot better than a few sheets of toilet paper.

          1. What happens if they make it Schedule II so it’s “legal” but requires a prescription, what happens if the federal government abandons the Scheduling system and adopts a 5 star rating? Or rating similar to the financial system? Super-duper Triple A Smiley Face Happy Pants! Is your constitutional amendment still valid? It’s like making a constitutional amendment that specifies a particular version of Windows or flavor of Linux. Don’t. Do that…

          2. He’s almost 90, give the guy a break.

  3. There’ve been many Constitutional challenges to the intrastate reach and other operations of the Controlled Substances Act, so the practical answer is that it’s Constitutional and needs to be deal with on the statutory level. There doesn’t seem to be a chance to get a fluke result for drugs as with contraception and abortion being ruled magically protected by the US Constitution; for something like that to happen, there’d have to be a revolution in public attitudes to say intoxication is a positive good that ought to be encouraged, for that’s about what it was with contraception and then abortions.

    Amending the Constitution so that it explicitly references a statutory and administrative category — schedule 1 of the CSA and the associated bit of the Code of Federal Regulations — would look bizarre, especially when the actual object is to remove cannabis from all controls. Seems the second sentence of the resolution, making cannabis, alcohol, and tobacco subject to the same regulations and taxation at the federal level, would be all that ‘s needed. But if you could get conventions in 3/4 of the states to ratify it (Why conventions?), I strongly doubt you’d need a Constitutional amendment at all.

    1. Eddy, Both the right and the left have called for a constitutional convention but I don’t think that either side really wants one. A constitutional convention would open up a can of worms and the best governmental document ever written will be at of risk of being destroyed. It is much better to change the constitution one amendment at a time. With a constitutional convention the constitution that we have now could be completely replaced taking away the protects that we now have and replace some form of totalitarian (right or left) government and without a means of changing it except by armed revolution. This will not mean so much for me because my time is greatly limited but it would effect my (and your) posterity.

  4. I thought the states calling a constitutional convention was some sort of right-wing plot. I can’t keep track of the talking points.

    1. Now it’s an old, hard to define, weirdo plot too.

    2. Article V, constitutional convention convened by the states.

      Republicans almost have the 2/3 states required to convene but need 3/4 states to ratify any Amendments.

  5. A constitutional convention only opens up the door for a massive rewrite of the constitution. Everything the progressives hate will be on the table for removal. Everything the populists hate will be on the table for removal. A constitutional convention is a profoundly bad idea just to push a single idea through.

    The last time we had a constitutional convention we ended up woodchipping the original and replacing it with something no one outside the convention hall asked for.

    1. Sadly, this is probably true.

    2. Well, Brandybuck, The US has had only one constitutional convention so how did . . . The last time we had a constitutional convention we ended up woodchipping the original and replacing it with something no one outside the convention hall asked for.?

      1. The convention which was meant to revise the Articles of Confederation ended up woodchipping the whole thing and starting over from scratch. History.

    3. 3/4 of the states have to ratify changes to the constitution. It would not result in a complete rewrite unless 3/4 of the state legislatures agree.

      You are regurgitating a Lefty talking point because they dont want a few amendments making it hardrr for them to destroy the USA.

      1. Actually regurgitating a right wing talking point. If you really think right wing legislators are pro-liberty, you need to check what you’re smoking.

        Oh sure, we’ll keep the popular stuff like the Free Speech. But the word smithing on them will open them up like swiss cheese. The whole idea that the government can only do what it is explicitly allowed to do would vanish. And we would end up with new Constitution that validates politicians as rulers.

        If you think the Right is in favor of limited and restrained government, then you haven’t been paying attention.

        1. I would cite the current Constitution Amendments still not fully ratified by 3/4 of the states but you’re clearly on a rock-and-roll drug bender.

          Look at the Amendments. Most are very reasonable limitations on the government that have been allowed by incompetent judges who weaseled out exceptions.

          Balanced budgets
          Term limits for every politicians and bureaucrat
          stricter limits on war making
          limits on tax raising

  6. The Millennials and the boomers (or earlier)…an alliance between the kids and the cool grandpas, you know, like Bernie.

  7. I don’t think a constitutional amendment is the way to go. Apply pressure to the FDA to remove marijuana from the list of schedule 1 of the CSA. It could be because marijuana has shown to have medical value. This method will take much less time than a constitutional amendment which can take years and has a greater chance to fail. Besides in the future if another chemical is found it would be easier to get it approved through the FDA rather the constitutional amendment method.

    1. How about just get rid of the fucking FDA and all drug laws?

      1. Epeal the Controlled substances Act and the FDA pretty much becomes the Food Administration.

  8. “did not make the qualifying threshold”

    So Gravel was designated as more of a weirdo than New Age Woman?

  9. […] that legalizing marijuana would be a “bad idea” but praised the state’s medical cannabis law.Former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-AK), a presidential candidate, is proposing a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.Sixty-four […]

  10. […] party’s gonna carry me other than these kids,” he told Reason in June, referring to David Oks and Henry Williams, the two teens at the heart of his […]

  11. […] the day-to-day operations of his campaign. Gravel himself did a few media interviews but otherwise resolved to “sit on my patio and see what happens.” He didn’t make a single visit to Iowa, New […]

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