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Daylin Leach is not your typical politician, he speaks candidly and casually with pretty much anyone who wants to speak to him. In essence, he is always campaigning by not always campaigning, but instead is approachable and genuine. He takes on a lot of pressing yet controversial issues most politicians wouldn’t even touch for fear of committing political suicide, and he does it with hyper-effective fervor.
Leach served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2003 to 2009 and currently serves as a senator in the Pennsylvania Senate representing the 17th district. On April 2, he announced his candidacy for the US Congress. Among his accomplishments in Pennsylvania: ending the practice of shackling female prisoners during childbirth, introducing a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Pennsylvania and tackling the rampant human trafficking problem, at least in his state.
If elected, he will be entering the most polarized house in American history– so polarized by both major parties that a real and frightening deadlock has stalled almost all progress in both houses, a record 7% of Americans feel the US Congress is doing a good or excellent job, a staggering statistic under the weight of the issues of the day.
Leach is optimistic that public opinion will propel these major issues, and he is dedicated to ending federal cannabis prohibition. Ladybud Magazine sat down with Senator Leach in his Conshohocken, PA campaign office to discuss his progress in Pennsylvania and congressional ambitions.
RACHEL ABRONS: What made you decide to get into politics?
DAYLIN LEACH: I always loved politics. At the age of seven I stayed up all night watching the Nixon-Humphrey election returns, it was a very close election. I was sort of hooked from that point on. I got involved in campaigns, I was president of the Pennsylvania Young Democrats. I wrote speeches and did debate coaching for candidates.
I always thought I would run someday but I had to find the right opportunity and I had to find someone who was willing to give me a paycheck for something in the meantime, so I practiced law until there was an opening. Then I ran and ultimately was successful. I served three terms in the Pennsylvania house, two in the senate and now this is my first time running for US Congress.
RA: You were the main sponsor behind PA SB 528, which would legalize marijuana in the state. What prompted you to take on this issue?
DL: I have always been troubled by what I felt was an irrational policy. It seems to me if you were starting from scratch you wouldn’t look at alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana and say ‘marijuana, you should be prosecuted for that, the other two are fine though, and in fact alcohol we are going to sell as a government,’ which we do in the state of Pennsylvania. But marijuana, you go to jail. I know this from when I was young, personal experiences, as well as studies: alcohol is far more dangerous, far more addictive, there is a lethal dose of alcohol and not one of marijuana. In every sense, alcohol is worse.
I think breathing [anything burned] probably isn’t healthy for you, but people do that all the time with tobacco, which is an addictive product unlike marijuana, and that is fine, we have no problem with that.
Why are we bothering people so much for smoking this plant? I did the research, I listened to the arguments. The first argument was it was a gateway drug. To the extent there is any gateway effect, it’s because people are put in a position where they have to buy marijuana from guys they have never met before. If you go into a state liquor store and ask the guy behind the counter for a bottle of Grey Goose vodka, the guy behind the counter never says ‘Okay, I also have some cocaine if you are interested.’ When you buy pot [on the black market], that is a possibility.
All the rationale has been wrong for this prohibition and it has always been nagging me but I had a lot of other things going on so I didn’t pursue it. But, then I saw what happened in Colorado and in Washington and what is happening in California, I realized now is the time, people are starting to get this. I want Pennsylvania to be part of that discussion.
We introduced the bill in Pennsylvania and got a lot of publicity, we got the conversation started. This will happen, it is inevitable. This will happen, one, because of demographics. People have no interest in prohibition, conservative, liberal, whatever.
Two, it is inevitable because of exposure. When we see what happened in Washington, Colorado and other places and saw nothing bad happen, it is harder to demonize pot the way it has been.
Three, money. There used to be only one place you could gamble 40 years ago in America, Las Vegas, it was a big sin taboo everywhere else. Now 48 states have gambling, why? Because they saw how much money Las Vegas was making and they decided they wanted some of that.We are going to start seeing how well the states that legalize do financially not only in taxes but in the money they save by not prosecuting people. You are going to see states around the country say ‘Why are we spending all this money when those states are making all that money, this doesn’t make any sense.’ For those three reasons this is inevitable.
What I am hoping to do is make it sooner. Every day we have the current prohibition is a bad day, it’s injustice. It’s a day when people are being prosecuted needlessly, people’s lives are being ruined, people are dying. Every day.
RA: What steps does Pennsylvania need to take to pass legislation?
DL: People ask me all the time, ‘Why does this other state pass something and we don’t pass this? How do we get this passed?’
There is one three word answer to this question and that is ‘elect different people.’ Its all about electing the right people. This should be an issue where people ask their candidates ‘are you for prohibition and why? What about all the consequences of prohibition, are you willing to accept that?’ People should vote on those issues. When the public says they want prohibition to end, prohibition will end. In the meantime, it’s time to convince the public that is the right way to go.
RA: Do you think it is becoming a more mainstream belief?
DL: Oh yeah, it is absolutely more mainstream. Washington and Colorado—keep in mind, that wasn’t some judge, that was the voters. The voters did that. These are not radically left-wing states. Keep in mind Colorado was a reliably red state up until a couple of cycles ago. This is something that is increasingly being talked about.
When I introduced my bill, frankly it has been nothing but good for me politically. I knew it would be controversial but it has helped us politically to introduce this bill. People increasingly, especially people under 60, just cannot find a rationale in keeping up the current policy.
RA: The bill calls for the liquor control board to regulate, what happens if it is privatized?
DL: Well then, we will have to go in a different direction. I am not married to that, down the road there may be private coffee houses that make it available, or whatever. I didn’t want to do too much in the bill because we have to get just the basic concept, I didn’t want to introduce controversial layers into it.
You know, we already have an infrastructure in place, whether you think the Liquor Control Board is a good or bad idea, it exists as of today, it is used to dealing with intoxicants, checking IDs and collecting taxes, so why not plug into an existing system to get the ball rolling? Then down the line if there are alternative ways to doing this that have worked in other states, I am certainly up to discussing that.
RA: Hemp is not included in the legislation?
DL: It legalizes cannabis for all purposes, so hemp would be de facto included, it’s not explicitly included. You couldn’t prosecute anyone for possession of any form of cannabis.
Again, just for the sake of not making the bill do more than we want it to do in the first place and making it more controversial, because when you include hemp explicitly then you start getting cotton manufacturers involved because they view it as competition, whereas they wouldn’t care otherwise. We don’t want to attract opposition. We want to get prohibition ended.
Can you imagine a scenario where its legal to buy a joint and smoke it in public but hemp remains illegal? That just seems like it’s not gonna happen. We just gotta get the basic policy of prohibition overturned first.
RA: You recently passed legislation creating a hotline for victims of human trafficking. Why was that important to you?
DL: Human trafficking is a horrible crime, it is the second most pervasive crime in the world after drug trafficking. It is essentially slavery. There are two components of it — the sex trade and forced labor. Forced labor is someone, often as immigrants, who is brought here and then told they have to repay some debt from the people who brought them here and so they have to work in a restaurant and sleep under the sink on a mattress every night. The debt is never repaid, they are never given a salary or benefits. They are just worked, and that is slavery.
Then there is the sex trade. The average age at which a girl who becomes a prostitute or is exposed to prostitution in America is 13. Often these are young runaways, kids who get caught up with the wrong persona after school or whatever who may be very nice at first and before they know it they are being forced to do things.
These are hard crimes to detect, hard crimes to convict someone. If you are a prostitute on the street and you are arrested, and you are doing it because you know the [pimp] is going to beat you senseless if you don’t, when you get arrested even if you tell the cops he is making you do it, it’s hard to convict him because she is on the street and he is nowhere around. Where are the bars? Where is the rope? It’s very hard to convict these people, especially since the women (it’s predominately women, not always women), but the people who are victims of this aren’t the most articulate testifiers. They are scared, they are young.
We have to do everything we can to try to place barriers [in front of] traffickers. The hotline bill is huge and the states who have already implemented it have seen the positive effects. Sometimes they are prosecuted and sometimes they aren’t, but every person we rescue is a life saved. We have already seen a huge difference.
We negotiated something with Clear Channel where they would put the hotline on billboards all across the state, which they did, and we actually got information from and were able to save people who mentioned they saw those billboards and were being trafficked.
RA: This year you are going to have the Safe Harbor Bill and the Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Bill, can you comment more on that?
DL: The comprehensive bill sets up funding, an infrastructure, to track people who might be the victims of human trafficking. If a woman is arrested for prostitution, it would create some opportunities to offer evidence of being a victim of trafficking as well as opportunities to have your record expunged, even for past convictions.
We too often treat the victims as criminals. We take a 15-year-old girl out on the street and arrest her for prostitution, give her a criminal record. She is never going to be able to get a job or go to school. She is doing this because she is forced, it’s terrible. The safe harbor bill will give these girls an opportunity to wipe their record clean if they can show some evidence of trafficking.
There are very few 14-year-old girls who say ‘You know what I’m gonna do? Prostitution sounds good.’ That is not how it works. Almost all of them have some connection with trafficking, force or coercion. We have to recognize that in the law.
The opposition is coming from the district attorneys who, frankly, just want to convict more people of stuff. They think everything is an excuse—not all of them, too many of them—just want to throw the book at everybody. We are trying to work through that.
RA: You also were able to pass the bill against the shackling of female prisoners during childbirth, can you tell me more about why you felt compelled to take action on the issue?
DL: There was a law, a policy that said ‘Every time a prisoner leaves the prison they have to be shackled by legs and arms.’ There was no exception for women in labor and so the default option was to just keep them shackled. There were all kinds of horrible medical things that happened as a result to these women—not to mention the indignity—so we passed legislation which would prohibit that. It is no longer the default option.
It is still an option if an inmate is proven violent, that every time you take the shackles off she leaps for the guard’s throat, but very few women who are nine months pregnant are that agile that they would be leaping for throats, but if [prison officials] can show that then they can still do it. The vast majority of women will now not have to be shackled during childbirth.
One of the worst cases involved a girl who was severely injured as a result of this policy, because they shackled her legs together. She was arrested for shoplifting and couldn’t make bail—ultimately the charges were dropped and she wasn’t convicted of anything. She was just in jail because of a charge that was dismissed, a minor charge at that. She had to go through this.
ANGELA BACCA: Sorry, to clarify, her legs were shackled together during childbirth?
DL: Yes. Eventually they took the shackles apart and shackled each leg to a different leg of the bed. Because you know, there are still two armed guards with her and she was going to overpower the two armed guards and flee, probably after having gotten an epidural, and escape to freedom. That was the fear. It is something out of the dark ages. If you ever want to lose faith in humanity, go read the comments on some of the news articles about this.
AB: I imagine you have to change a lot of minds, do you have any specific tactics for that?
DL: Some minds are more open to being changed than others, you sort of know who they are. You look for opportunities to say ‘if you support me on this I can support you on that.’ Sometimes its easier to make those deals, depending on what you are talking about, but it’s all a big dance.
DIANE FORNBACHER: You are a lot more accessible than most politicians on social media, on Facebook, do you ever have cause to regret that?
DL: No, my staff might, but I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Look, if people at some point don’t like what I do, don’t like my sense of humor or my personality, then they will vote for someone else. Then I will get another job that probably pays better and I will get to see my family more. I will be fine, I don’t care. You get competitive and you want to win but I have been through the mental process of what will happen if I lose. My ego is enormous but I satisfy that in other ways, I take my job seriously but I can’t take everything else that seriously. If people don’t like it then they don’t have to vote for me.
AB: If you make it to DC, how are you going to approach work there?
DL: Well, it’s tragic Michele Bachmann is leaving because I was looking forward to spending some quality time with her there. But seriously, everyone is a person, I will try to find opportunities to find people who are decent and work with them.
AB: Would you admit to smoking pot?
DL: I have before. I don’t anymore, but if I did I would admit it but I sort of lost interest in it.
DL: You can?
DF: I have a friend who uses it to ease the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis, particularly the hot spots (burning sensations) on her skin. If she applies cannabis topically, the sensation abates.
DL: Can you get high like that?
AB, DF, RA: No.
DF: There are many forms of applications that will not get you high but have shown to take away neuropathic pain.
DL: When we talk about medical marijuana, people are always worried about whether or not it gets you high. I just wonder why people care so much if it does.
AB: You can get high on pharmaceuticals.
DL: I had an issue a year ago where I had to take Percocet for about a week and I was a zombie. I was much more functional stoned than I ever was on Percocet. My god.
DF: It’s overkill in many cases and the addictive properties really don’t make it worth it. What is your impression of the pharmaceutical industry and the hand they have in cannabis legalization?
DL: We love the pharmaceutical industry in the sense that we want drugs.
DF: They can be efficacious in some cases.
DL: Yeah, I am on a couple of cholesterol drugs that help me immensely.
DF: Cannabis has been illegal for so long that it’s a mad scramble to bring it back to a place where it can be controlled. It is a very complex situation for the pharmaceutical industry.
DL: But you know, we will get there. The demonization of pot has nothing to do with the actual properties of pot. It’s really hard to find someone who can make a good case to continue prohibition. People I have debated just spew things that can be easily countered, like [Pennsylvania] Governor Corbett ‘It’s a gateway drug’. Governor Corbett is not a deep thinker, but I am guessing he has never read the studies, someone just told him that and he repeats it. He has a sentence on every issue and a second sentence eludes him on most issues, pot is one of those issues.
AB: How do you see the issues evolving with your electorate changing? The Millennial Generation thinks very differently than earlier generations.
DL: Every day an opponent of legalization goes to heaven and a proponent is born. Over time, that will make all the difference. This is a dead policy walking. One hundred years from now, it won’t take that long [to legalize it]. People will think of cannabis prohibition as this quaint thing the way we do with alcohol prohibition. People won’t believe we actually had a policy like this and people would go to jail for smoking pot. That will be a joke in many years.
My goal here is to make sure Pennsylvania doesn’t pass the end of prohibition three weeks after Mississippi. I would like us to not be 50th or 49th on everything. I want us to be up front on this issue.
AB: Was that a comment about Mississippi just ratifying the 13th amendment?
DL: Yeah, bless their hearts.