Central Texas Candidate for Congress Takes Bold Stance on Marijuana Policy
A candidate for United States Congress in central Texas isn’t shying away from the issue of changing marijuana laws. Dale Mantey, who seeks to unseat incumbent Rep. Bill Flores in District 17, has made some of the boldest statements yet regarding the nation’s marijuana policies.
Mantey, a fifth generation resident of Milam County running for his first public office, oversaw a youth education and prevention program while in Colorado concerning marijuana consumption, giving him perspective on the issue of keeping marijuana out of the hands of children.
Unlike candidates for positions in the state government, Mantey must take a different approach to cannabis policy due to the federal implications of the issue, and has taken a stance of letting states take the lead on deciding whether or not to legalize marijuana, even once the federal government legalizes the plant. He also see’s the federal government as setting down basic guidelines for legal states to follow to help ensure consumers are able to obtain a consistent product.
It is on the issue of medical marijuana which he takes a strong approach, beginning with changing the scheduling of marijuana, which by current federal standards has no acceptable medical use and has a high potential for abuse.
“Marijuana has no business being rated Schedule I. It is clear that there is a medical benefit to marijuana for things like PTSD, epilepsy, chronic pain, it can be used with hospice patients, cancer patients, that automatically in my opinion takes marijuana out of Schedule I,” Mantey states.
Given that the issue of rescheduling marijuana has become a political football among agencies who continuously punt on the issue, the major question becomes who should oversee the rescheduling process. “It starts with congress … it needs to come from legislation in congress. We should not be putting the burden on a regulatory entity, we need legislation from congress that clearly articulates marijuana policy in the United States. We need to take responsibility in congress,” Mantey says with certainty, adding that he believes congress isn’t taking on enough responsibility, one of the reasons he cites in running for office.
If cannabis should be re-scheduled however, what would that look like? “I’m for on the low end, Schedule IV, Schedule V but I’m not opposed to taking it off entirely.” He adds that because it occupies such a unique area as both a recreational substance and as a medicine, it might require different regulation than what is currently in place for alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals.
Mantey continued, touching on the fact that studies on the effects of marijuana are restricted due to federal policy. “We can study use behaviors pretty easily … but in terms of doing clinical trials and longitudinal studies, there is a serious absence of research.”
Marijuana regulation will have to be “give and take” between the federal government and states, though states would take the lead he says. “I do believe that, especially on the recreation side for the states that choose to legalize, there should be some sort of minimum standard on the federal level. There are public health consequences to recreational marijuana, and what I mean by that, we don’t know the long term consequences, the research isn’t there yet. But there are very clear things that I think most people can be on board with, youth prevention, regulation of marketing exposure, kind of the way we treat alcohol and tobacco on the recreational side and I do think there should be a comprehensive universal standard across the nation in terms of the day to day interactions with consumers, and seed to sale systems, a lot of that can be done on the state level with guidance from the federal government.”
A common remark made by people who find medical marijuana as an effective treatment is that they are a patient in one state and a criminal in another. Mantey responds such remarks by saying “In public health we call those people medical refugees, people who have a diagnosis of a disorder that is treated best by marijuana, to where physicians are encouraging use. That exists, that is not anecdotal, that’s not qualitative, that exists and there are plenty of examples of this. I think that with regards to medical, it should be legalized across the nation.” Mantey speaks solidly in favor ensuring people in every state have access to medical marijuana.
He adds, “Recreational I see why states may want to make their own choices, but with medical that is a decision between you and your doctor. If a state today decided to take a pharmaceutical drug and make it illegal, they would have a hard time upholding that in court, I think there’s good reason for that, and marijuana should be treated the same way as any other studied and approved treatment. Marijuana should be given the same protection as any other evidence-based treatment.” He adds that at the end of the day though, this must be negotiated in congress, and that while he could say or ask for the perfect thing, it won’t make it to law that way.
Asked about autism as a qualifying disorder, he agreed that there is evidence which demonstrates that it can help in severe cases. “For those parents who are currently treating, there should be a system where, if that’s the treatment that is working for their child they should be able to do it under a physician’s care, and there are states where that is illegal, and that is a disservice to these families, kids, and physicians who have made the decision that this is a recommended course of treatment.”
Does this mean that he believes that an agency shouldn’t be dictating the qualifying conditions and that it should be doctors making those decisions instead? “Well, not exactly. With pharmaceuticals we treat a lot of things off-label, doctors have a lot of autonomy here and discretion, and they are able to treat within clinical-based guidelines. There should be always a reviewed empirical basis for using it. I would like marijuana to be treated like any other medical prescription.” Addressing concerns of people being able to gain access to medical marijuana under false pretenses, which has been a major concern among people, he responds “The biggest prevention of that is the fact that these are doctors, these are people whose lives and career are on the line with their prescription pads. Now that doesn’t necessarily fix everything, we see that every day with the opioid epidemic.”
In states where medical marijuana is legal, with the exception of Texas, doctors do not prescribe marijuana due to its federal status, and instead recommend medical cannabis in order to stay in compliance with federal prescription regulations. Mantey says this needs to change, and once legalized at the federal level, become a prescription. Would this lead to insurance companies having to cover medical marijuana as a prescription medicine though?
“Insurance companies are underwritten by each state, every state still has a great degree of autonomy on how this is done.” He goes on to explain that it would largely be decided on a state by state basis whether or not this medicine would be covered by health insurance, and this would be the case for Medicaid as well since that program is administered by the states.
As for Medicare, which serves 55.3 million seniors and people with disabilities, Mantey say’s that he “leans yes with strings attached” on medical marijuana being covered as a medicine. “I don’t think there is a perfect answer for this.” Given his stance on it being medicine, Mantey says that for tax purposes, it should be treated like any other pharmaceuticals and not be taxed.
Asked about current hemp policy which allows the plant to be imported and consumed, but not grown here, he states “that makes absolutely no sense. Someone would really have to explain to me why we should continue the prohibition on it, because I don’t see it.” On the subject of hemp regulation, he believes that it should be regulated like any other agricultural crop such as corn, cotton, etc.
He did raise concerns about the possible need for testing crops to ensure they are not hiding marijuana, however such concerns have been shown to be uncalled for as marijuana is not able to be grown near a hemp field. Cross-pollination between the two plants would drastically reduce the amount of THC, the component which produces a high, in the marijuana plants. In countries where hemp is legally grown, this has not presented as a problem.
Another concern many people have expressed is that genetic engineering businesses could eventually take over the industry by patenting various strains of marijuana and ultimately making it so that only their product is available, resulting in an effective monopoly over the market. Asked about the issue of corporations genetically modifying and essentially owning both hemp and marijuana plants, Mantey stated “I am thoroughly against the monopolizing of industries, including agriculture.” Additionally, he also came out against allowing the patenting of most processes for making, growing, and preparing both hemp and marijuana, as well as preventing people from using the seeds of genetically modified plants.
It is a long road to next year’s election which is sure to present many issues, however Rep. Flores won’t be Mantey’s first challenge though, as he still has to win a Democratic primary which will feature at least two other candidates. He has been trekking all around the district however, holding numerous town halls and sitting for interviews with local news outlets.
The main question keeps popping up about whether or not he can win a seat which has been solidly Republican since the district was redrawn in 2010. While any candidate would do themselves a disservice to say that they cannot win, Mantey seems confident, saying that the votes are there, it’s just a matter of getting people to show up to the polls. “We are a non-voting state” he claimed at a recent town hall in Waco. He also pointed to the growth of Democratic voters in the southern counties of the district.
Recent figures show that about 42 percent of eligible voters turned out for the 2016 election in Texas.
District 17 encompasses a wide spread of central Texas, including Brazos, Burleson, Falls, Freestone, Limestone, McLennan, Milam, Robertson, and part of Bastrop, Lee, Leon, and Travis counties.