Kennedy & Markey Spar over Cannabis ahead of Massachusetts Primary

 Kennedy & Markey Spar over Cannabis ahead of Massachusetts Primary

Rep. Joe Kennedy III and Sen. Ed Markey locked in a 2020 Democratic primary debate. Photo from The Patch

If 2020 wasn’t odd enough, this week Massachusetts Democrats choose their U.S. Senate candidate between two historically anti-marijuana politicians who are now promising to be cannabis advocates amid the primary.

A few weeks back, I approached a skinny, fresh-faced 39-year-old – with his signature dusty red hair waving in the wind – as he was leaving the Capitol after casting a vote.

“Sir. Sir!” I call, increasingly louder, as he’s walking down the Capitol steps at this point. “I almost called you Senator Kennedy – didn’t mean to jinx ya sir.”

“Thank you,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III replies, in the cool, though perpetually over confident, Northeastern air his father, Robert Kennedy, and iconic uncles made synonymous with the Kennedy name back in the sixties. “No worries. What’s going on?”

What was going on was that cannabis policy had become a part of the Massachusetts Senate primary – and that was a bit of a shock to many. Granted, political operatives, many who were surprised when the philosophically moderate, heir of a political dynasty (or what’s left of it) decided to go all in against progressive Sen. Ed Markey – a man who served 37 years in the House before moving to the Senate in 2013.

Markey has successfully wooed the progressive left, in part, by having an established record as a progressive. He won the coveted endorsement from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) – even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi later weighed in for Kennedy – for his work on her Green New Deal. But this part of the primary is centered on a different green debate: Marijuana.

Back on the well-worn steps of the Capitol, Kennedy wasn’t hearing any of those criticisms from his opponent, especially now that Markey has come out as pro-cannabis.

“I think it’s an attempt to distort from his record. I came out in support of legalizing marijuana before Sen. Markey did,” a seemingly perpetually un-phased Kennedy tells The News Station.

But Kennedy himself isn’t a pro-marijuana lawmaker, which we were quick to point out.

“Yeah. I’ve historically been opposed,” Kennedy said. “The difference on this is I’ve wrestled with it publicly.”

This is where these green waters get even murkier. Kennedy opposed legalization even as far back as 2016, though he’s since claimed to have come around on the issue. For, Markey – after giving Kennedy a 10-month long head start on his cannabis conversion – the sitting incumbent senator then did his own about-face: He came out in favor of three cannabis bills in a single day (all within 72-hours of Kennedy challenged him in the Senate primary, according to Marijuana Moment.)

For weeks now Markey has refused to do an interview on marijuana with The News Station, even as his opponent did.

Markey’s campaign team did send in this statement (again: this is NOT from the senator, who we’ve repeatedly requested an interview with on this subject; it’s from his staff who are seemingly more eager to discuss this topic than the septuagenarian senator is).

“The people of Massachusetts voted to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, and I support those efforts. It is now up to the state and localities to implement regulations and execute policies, especially ones that protect public health and safety…” the senator’s staffers typed (along with some other lines filled with other campaign rhetoric you can find on his website, which we’re not going to link to here out of deference to the busy senator) to The News Station.

Meanwhile, as Markey rejects cannabis interviews, Sen. Kennedy – a recent, if not current, anti-cannabis lawmaker – is eager for them.

“He’s making hay about it, so I’d love to chat with you,” Kennedy says as he runs off the steps of the U.S. Capitol.

The News Station never had to take Kennedy up on that follow-up interview offer. That’s mostly because his opponent – current Sen. Ed Markey – didn’t think this issue was enough to even make hay out of; let alone hop on a quick phone call with The News Station about.

Matt Laslo

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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