Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Saturday, July 11, 2020

"Why Won’t Democrats Just Come Out for Legalizing Marijuana?"

Joe-biden-marijuanaThe question in the title of this post is the title of this new commentary at The Nation authored by John Nichols. The piece is in the same vein as the one noted here asking why Joe Biden won't embrace legalization.  Here are excerpts:

Some political issues are hard to wrestle with.  Some are easy.  Legalizing marijuana is easy.

A Pew Research Center survey found last fall that Americans back legalization by a 67-32 margin.  The numbers spike among Democrats, 78 percent of whom favor ending this form of prohibition.  But there’s also majority support — 55 percent — among Republicans.  Among voters under age 30, support for legalization is sky-high.

Enthusiasm for legalization extends far beyond the large number of Americans who are recreational users of marijuana to include millions of people who recognize, as does the American Civil Liberties Union, that “Marijuana Legalization Is a Racial Justice Issue.”...

When the [Democratic] party’s task force on criminal justice reform released its policy recommendations this week, legalization was off the agenda.  That was just one example of the caution that permeates the 110-page document submitted to the Democratic National Committee’s platform drafters by the six task forces that were set up in May by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his chief rival for the party’s nomination, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders....

There’s criticism of mass incarceration and a good proposal to restrict federal funding for states that maintain cash bail systems. But there’s no plan to abolish the scandal-plagued Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency or to defund the police with an eye toward establishing new law enforcement models that strive for public safety and justice....

Color of Change senior director of criminal justice campaigns Scott Roberts told Politico that Biden “still seems to embrace kind of a law-and-order lite.” That was certainly the case when it came to upending marijuana laws.

The commission rejected legalization — the popular position backed by Sanders. Instead, it stuck to the more cautious approach that’s been maintained by Biden, a supporter of the drug war during his own Senate years who has softened some but not all of his old positions. Instead of legalization, the commission proposed to “decriminalize marijuana use,” reschedule cannabis on the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), and leave it to the states to decide about legalization.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws concluded that the proposal “is out of step with public opinion [and] would do little to mitigate the failed policy of federal prohibition.”

“It is impractical at best and disingenuous at worst for the Biden campaign to move ahead with these policy proposals. Rescheduling of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act would continue to make the federal government the primary dictators of cannabis policy, and would do little if anything to address its criminal status under federal law,” explained Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Law.  “Rescheduling marijuana is intellectually dishonest. Just as cannabis does not meet the strict criteria of a Schedule I controlled substance, it similarly does not meet the specific criteria that define substances categorized in schedules II through V.”

Why didn’t the commission simply endorse the Marijuana Justice Act, which has been introduced by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker in the Senate and House Democrats Barbara Lee and Ro Khanna?  Sanders supports the measure, as do two of Biden’s vice presidential prospects, Warren and Senator Kamala Harris.  The answer is that Biden has a long history of opposing legalization — going so far in his resistance to the idea that, last year, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez suggested that the former vice president was employing “Reagan-era talking points.”

Prior related post:

Is marijuana reform really a "Superweapon Biden Refuses to Use"?

 

July 11, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

"County-Level Differences in Support for Recreational Cannabis on the Ballot"

Cdxa_47_2.coverThe title of this post is the title of this notable new paper in the journal Contemporary Drug Problems authored by Lindsey Beltz, Clayton Mosher and Jennifer Schwartz.  Here is its abstract:

Cannabis is traversing an extraordinary journey from an illicit substance to a legal one, due in part to an unprecedented wave of bottom-up law reform through successful citizen ballot initiatives.  Yet, even in states that have legalized recreational cannabis, there is substantial geographic variability in support of cannabis legalization. Geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization is impactful (e.g., county moratoriums/bans) yet poorly understood.

This paper demonstrates the consequences of county-level population demographics, sociopolitical factors, and community differences in experience with criminalization of cannabis possession for understanding county-level variation in support of recreational cannabis law reform on (un)successful ballot measures in California (2010), Colorado (2012), Washington (2012), and Oregon (2014). 

OLS regression analyses of nearly 200 counties indicate that differences in racial and ethnic composition (% Black, Hispanic), political affiliation (% Republican), past criminalization, gender composition, and higher education level of residents all predict county-level variation in support for liberalization of cannabis law.  Stronger Republican political leanings and/or higher percentages of Black or Hispanic residents were associated with reduced support, whereas higher education, male sex composition, and greater past criminalization were associated with increased support for cannabis legalization across counties. Religiosity and rurality were inconsequential as predictors of county-level voting patterns favoring recreational cannabis.  The substantial geographic variability in voter support for cannabis legalization has significant implications for policy implementation and effectiveness.

July 8, 2020 in Initiative reforms in states, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

"States with recreational marijuana laws view the legislation as a success"

Recreational-marijuana-success-failure-01-01-01-01The title of this post is the title of this new article from YouGov discussing its survey that provides an interesting window into the positive impression that marijuana reform has made in states that have legalized adult-use. Here are the details:

States that have legalized recreational marijuana don’t seem likely to regret it.

YouGov asked more than 32,000 Americans whether they believe recreational marijuana legislation has been more of a success or failure in the states that have legalized it. In many states where recreational cannabis is legal, a plurality of citizens believes these laws have been more of a success than a failure overall.

That is a particularly strong belief in Colorado, where citizens were among the first-in-the-nation to vote in favor of recreational weed in 2012. Today, about a quarter (26%) of Coloradans say the state-level recreational cannabis laws have been a “success only” and another 45 percent say they have been “more of a success than a failure.” Fewer than one in five (17%) believe the laws have been “more of a failure.”...

While decriminalized marijuana and approvals for medical marijuana became popular in the 1970s and 1990s, recreational marijuana was not legalized anywhere in the United States until 2012. Now, recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states—Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maine, Alaska, and Vermont—with more states considering the legislation this year.

About two-thirds of those in Oregon (69%) and Massachusetts (67%) believe that the laws have been more of a success. That remains the majority opinion among those who live in Washington (65%), Nevada (64%), California (59%), Illinois (59%), and Michigan (56%).

Michigan and Illinois are the only Midwestern states with legal recreational marijuana, and they are the most recent additions to the list. Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana after residents approved it during the 2018 Midterm elections. Illinois became the 11th after its state government approved recreational cannabis for adults over 21 during the 2019 legislative session. The state began selling recreational marijuana in January.

Maine is the only state surveyed where fewer than half (47%) view the laws as more of a success. About one in nine Mainers say the laws have been a “success only.” About one-third (37%) consider the laws more of a success than a failure. One in five (20%) believe the laws have generally been more of a failure, and one-third (33%) are uncertain.

The folks at YouGov did another interesting poll about marijuana back in April 2020, which is reported here under the headline "Is marijuana essential? Most Americans say yes"

May 14, 2020 in Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 3, 2020

NORML releases new scorecard of Governors based on "comments and voting records in 2019 specific to matters of marijuana policy"

Download (8)Last week the acvocacy group NORML released here its "2020 Gubernatorial Scorecard" which constitutes an "extensive database assign[ing] a letter grade 'A' through 'F' to states' governors based upon their comments and voting records in 2019 specific to matters of marijuana policy."  Here is part of the executive summary:

Public opinion in support of marijuana law reform, including adult-use legalization, is at an all-time high. Nonetheless, few federal lawmakers are espousing views on cannabis policy that comport with those of the majority of their constituents.  As a result, most legislative activity specific to marijuana policy takes place at the state level. America's governors are our nation's most powerful state-elected officials and they often play a key role in this ongoing legislative debate.  Here is where each of them stands on issues surrounding cannabis policy.

KEY FINDINGS

Thirty-two US governors received a passing grade of 'C' or higher (22 Democrats, 10 Republicans); last year, only 27 Governors received a grade of 'C' or higher.

Of these, nine US governors -- all Democrats -- received an 'A' grade.

Twelve governors received a 'B' grade (11 Democrats, 1 Republican)

Eleven governors received a 'C' grade (9 Republicans, 2 Democrats)

Ten governors -- nine Republicans and one Democrat -- received a 'D' grade

Eight governors -- all Republicans -- received a 'F' grade

Among Democratic Governors, 39 percent received an 'A.' Ninety-six percent of Democratic Governors received a grade of 'C' or higher.

Among Republican Governors, only 37 percent received a grade of a 'C' or higher. Thirty percent received a failing grade.

THE TAKEAWAY

Political support among US governors for marijuana policy reform continues to grow.  However, this support is more partisan than ever before.  No Republicans are on record in support of adult-use legalization and few are in favor of regulating medical cannabis access.  By contrast, a large percentage of Democrats are supportive of both issues.  This partisan divide is not similarly reflected among the general public.  According to national polling data compiled by Gallup in October 2019, 66 percent of the public -- including majorities of self-identified Democrats, Republicans, and Independents -- favor adult-use legalization.  Bipartisan support among the public for medical marijuana legalization is even stronger.  Until this public support is similarly reflected among lawmakers, many cannabis-specific legislative reforms – in particular adult-use legalization proposals – will continue to meet resistance at the state level.

February 3, 2020 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Notable new poll explores Americans' views on CBD and marijuana

This new Politico piece reports on this interesting new polling that seems to me to present the deepest accounting of (shallow?) views on a range of cannabis related issues.  Here is part of the Politico piece: 

Americans now think marijuana is much less harmful than alcohol, tobacco or e-cigarettes, according to new polling results from POLITICO and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health released Monday. Just 1 in 5 Americans believe marijuana is very harmful to people who use it. Twice as many said the same about alcohol, 52 percent characterized e-cigarettes as very harmful and 80 percent said tobacco cigarettes are very harmful....

The poll shows marijuana largely has avoided a perception hit following nearly 2,000 cases of vaping-related lung illnesses, including at least 37 deaths. The most recent numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that more than 80 percent of vaping products linked to lung problems contained THC — the psychoactive component of marijuana. Most of the vaping products tied to the outbreak were bought on the black market, although a handful of deaths have been tied to products purchased through state-legal marijuana dispensaries. The poll was conducted in early October, at least a month after news broke of health issues associated with vaping....

The market for CBD products has exploded since hemp was legalized under the 2018 farm bill, with Americans using it to treat everything from back pain to cancer. But despite widespread use, many Americans don't know what it is.

Nearly half of respondents indicated they weren’t familiar with CBD. Yet CBD is widely seen by the general public as a benign substance. Only 8 percent of total adults polled and 5 percent of those familiar with CBD said they think it is very harmful.

A majority of people familiar with CBD said they want little to no interference or regulation by the federal government. Only half of those who knew what CBD was thought the Food and Drug Administration should regulate the safety of products that contain it. The FDA is wrestling with how it should regulate the rapidly growing industry.

Of consumers familiar with CBD, 55 percent said they should be able to buy it over the counter if they think it‘s effective for them — whether or not a clinical trial has proven that it actually is. And more than 3 out of every 5 CBD users say they’d consider using their favorite products even if the FDA found that the product doesn’t actually help in the way it claims to....

While 67 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of independents support federal marijuana legalization, only 45 percent of Republicans are on board. That translates to 62 percent of Americans supporting federal legalization, a huge leap from the 44 percent of Americans who thought legalization was a good idea in 2009...

But when it comes to CBD, there is no partisan divide. According to the Harvard poll, 13 percent of Republicans and Democrats indicated they use CBD products. In addition, 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans think it should be sold in drugstores like CVS or Walgreens. The real CBD divide is generational: 21 percent of adults under 30 use it, versus 11 percent of adults over 65.

November 5, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Latest Gallup poll shows steady significant support for marijuana legalization

Though the direction of public polling is never a sure forecast of the direction of public policy, the rapid reform of marijuana laws at the state level in the US has move in sync with a rapid rise in public support for such reform.  And, as detailed in this Gallup posting, headlined "U.S. Support for Legal Marijuana Steady in Past Year," polling this year suggests that support for marijuana legalization is not waning (but also not growing). Here are the details:

Americans' support for legalizing marijuana has held steady at 66% over the past year, after rising 30 percentage points between 2005 and 2018.  The latest results are based on Gallup's annual Crime survey, conducted Oct. 1-13. Not only have 66% favored legalizing marijuana in the 2018 and 2019 Crime polls, but the same level of support was found in an intervening Gallup survey, conducted in May.

Gallup first asked about making marijuana use legal in 1969, when just 12% of Americans favored the proposal.  Nearly a decade later, a 1977 survey found support had increased to 28%, but it held at about that level through 1995, finally surpassing 30% in Gallup's next measurement, in 2000.  Since then, the percentage of Americans advocating legal marijuana usage has more than doubled, with support increasing significantly among all major subgroups.

As public opinion has become increasingly pro-marijuana, so has state policy.  As of June, 11 states plus the District of Columbia have legalized recreational use of marijuana.  Twenty-two other states allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Majorities of most key subgroups now favor making marijuana legal, according to an analysis of the opinions of more than 3,500 adults asked the question in the three 2018-2019 Gallup surveys.  There are essentially no meaningful differences in support for legal marijuana by gender, education, income, region and urban/suburban/rural residence -- between 60% and 70% of subgroup members within those categories favor legalization. Opinions do vary significantly according to partisanship and ideology, age and generation, race, and religiosity.

Americans on the left of the political spectrum are more likely than those on the right to favor making marijuana legal.  However, the differences are greater by political ideology than by partisanship.  Twenty-five points separate Democratic (76%) and Republican (51%) support for making marijuana legal, with independents (68%) near the national average.

In contrast, 82% of liberals versus 48% of conservatives want to see marijuana made legal, a 34-point difference.  Conservatives are one of the few major subgroups expressing less-than-majority support for making marijuana legal.  Moderates' opinions (72%) are closer to those of liberals than conservatives.

Generally speaking, younger adults are much more likely than older adults to favor legalizing marijuana.  This includes 81% of adults under age 30 as well as 80% of the larger millennial generation subgroup, consisting of those born between 1980 and 2000.  By contrast, less than half of senior citizens (49%) are in favor of decriminalizing marijuana, and the percentage is even lower -- 40% -- among adults born in 1945 or before.  Baby boomers and members of Generation X are close to the national average in terms of wanting marijuana to be made legal, at 61% and 63%, respectively.

Majorities of major U.S. racial and ethnic subgroups endorse the legalization of marijuana, but blacks are more likely to hold this view than whites, while Hispanics show even less support.  Americans who attend religious services on a weekly basis are among the subgroups least likely to say marijuana should be made legal, with just 42% in favor.  That compares with more than three-quarters of those who seldom or never attend church (77%) and 63% of those who attend occasionally.

Americans have rapidly shifted to backing legal marijuana in the past decade after consistently expressing opposition for 40 years. It appears the increases in support have halted for the time being, with no change in the percentage favoring legalization over the past year. However, given generational differences in support for legalizing marijuana use, it is likely the percentage who endorse making marijuana use legal will continue to expand in the years ahead.

Even if support has leveled off for the time being, it remains solidly above the majority level, and has created a public opinion environment that is conducive to more states adopting pro-marijuana policies.  Although most states now allow marijuana usage for medical if not recreational purposes, the drug remains illegal according to federal law.

October 26, 2019 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 13, 2019

New Gallup poll (imperfectly) explores reasons Americans support or oppose marijuana reform

Gallup has this new story reporting on the results of its recent intriguing poll about marijuana reform under the headline "In U.S., Medical Aid Top Reason Why Legal Marijuana Favored."  Here are excerpts:

As public support for legalizing marijuana has surged, a new Gallup poll finds 86% of U.S. supporters of legal marijuana saying its medicinal benefits are a very important reason they support legalization.  Majorities also say freeing up police resources to focus on other crimes, respecting people's personal freedom, and generating tax revenue for state and local governments are key reasons for their support.

Marijuana legalization supporters are less likely to say that increasing the drug's safety through government regulation or believing that marijuana is not harmful are very important reasons they hold the opinion they do.

The results are based on a May 15-30 Gallup poll that sought to explore some of the reasons behind Americans' opinions for, or against, making marijuana legal. Gallup has documented a sharp increase in the percentage of Americans favoring legal marijuana in the past decade, from 44% in 2009 to 64% in the current survey. Gallup has measured support as high as 66% in an October 2018 update. In 1969, the first time Gallup polled on the issue, just 12% were in favor of legalizing marijuana.

For the most part, different subgroups of marijuana legalization advocates are similar in their stated reasons for supporting legal marijuana.  One modest difference concerns the importance of tax revenue for state and local governments, something that 63% of male supporters versus 50% of female supporters regard as very important.

The roughly one-third of Americans who oppose legalization were asked to say how important each of six factors is to their position on the issue.  Foremost among these is the possibility of increased car accidents involving drivers who use marijuana -- 79% say this is a very important reason they oppose legalizing the drug.

Additionally, at least six in 10 opponents rate three other factors as very important reasons behind their objections: the possibility that marijuana users would try stronger and more addictive drugs; the potential for marijuana usage to increase; and that legalizing marijuana would not benefit society much.  A slim majority of opponents cite its potential harm to users....

The most compelling reason for legalization, according to those who hold that position, is the help it gives to those who use it for medicinal purposes. Also, supporters tend to point to the possible benefits legal pot would have on law enforcement, state and local governments, and personal freedom.  A "lack of harm" for users does not appear to a be a major reason why people want marijuana legalized.

Opponents, though smaller in number, point more to the societal risks, including those related to car accidents and marijuana users trying more potent drugs that likely would have a greater societal cost for those who become addicted.

Though these poll results are interesting (and not all that surprising), it is somewhat disappointing that the questions exploring support for and opposition to marijuana reform were not more refined.  In particular, given concerns about the "war on drug" and its racial skew, I would have liked to seen more "support" questions focused on various criminal justice reform concerns.  Similarly, the opposition questions did not explore widespread concerns about increasing youth access to and use of marijuana.  Some of the existing questions get near to these topics, but I suspect more or more refined questions would have impacted the outcomes.

June 13, 2019 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Noting the latest polling numbers favoring marijuana reform

This Business Insider article, headlined "A record 61% of Americans now want weed to be legalized across the US, with support rising in every age group," report on the latest notable poll numbers concerning marijuana reform. Here are excerpts:

A record 61% of Americans say pot should be legalized, according to the respected General Social Survey.  The poll, which has tracked support for legal marijuana since 1973, found that approval reached an all-time high across all age groups, US regions, and political affiliations in 2018.

The numbers reflect how attitudes toward the drug are shifting across the nation. While the majority of Americans want the legalization of cannabis now, only 16% did in 1987 and 1990, the years with the joint-lowest support....

Though support grew across all age brackets, it remains the highest among 18- to 34-year-olds, the survey found.  More than 70% of young Americans say they want pot to be legal, while only 42% of interviewees over 65 say the same.

Survey takers in the Midwest are most in favor, at 68%. While support was lowest in the South, more than half of respondents there still said marijuana should be legalized.

On the political spectrum, Democrats (69%) and independents (66%) were largely in favor of legalizing weed.  Only 42% of Republicans agreed, but support among them has been growing steadily over the years. In 2012, only a third of Republican voters wanted cannabis to be legal.

March 21, 2019 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Latest polling data shows overwhelming support for medical marijuana reform and notable age gap in support for full legalization

The results of the latest Quinnipiac University national poll with questions on marijuana reform can be found at this link, and here is how the results on these questions are summarized:

Legalized Marijuana

American voters say 60 - 33 percent "the use of marijuana should be made legal in the U.S." There is a very small gender gap, but a wide age gap:

  • Voters 18 to 34 years old support legalized marijuana 85 - 12 percent;
  • Voters 35 to 49 years old support it 63 - 30 percent;
  • Voters 50 to 64 years old support it 59 - 35 percent;
  • Voters over 65 years old are divided on legalized marijuana as 44 percent support it, with 49 percent opposed.

Voters support medical marijuana, if a doctor prescribes it, 93 - 5 percent.

American voters support erasing criminal records for marijuana possession 63 - 29 percent.  Republicans are divided as 45 percent support erasing records, with 47 percent opposed. Every other listed party, gender, education, age and racial group supports erasing criminal records.

"The baby boomers say no to the drug that helped define an era, while the millennials say bring it on," [Tim] Malloy [assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll] said. "In between are enough voters to rubber stamp legalizing marijuana for recreation as well as medical reasons."

The results on these questions are here also broken down by gender, education levels and racial background.  Interestingly, there is no real gender gap on these questions in this latest poll, but there is a small racial gap on a few of the questions.

March 7, 2019 in Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 3, 2019

"How and why have attitudes about cannabis legalization changed so much?"

Images (4)The title of this post is the title of this interesting new paper published in Social Science Research and authored by Jacob Felson, Amy Adamczyk and Christopher Thomas.  Here is its abstract:

Since the late 1990s public opinion about cannabis legalization has become drastically more liberal, and some states have begun to legalize cannabis for recreational use.  Why have attitudes changed so much?  Prior research has considered a few of the reasons for this change, but this is the first comprehensive and empirically-based study to consider the wide range of potential causes for how and why this happened. 

We use data from the General Social Survey, National Study of Drug Use and Health, and word searches from the New York Times.  We find that attitudes largely liberalized via intracohort changes.  Most Americans developed more liberal views, regardless of their race and ethnicity, gender, education, religious or political affiliation, or religious engagement.  Changes in cannabis use have had minimal effects on attitudes, and legalization of cannabis has not prompted attitude change in neighboring states.  As to root causes, evidence suggests that a decrease in religious affiliation, a decline in punitiveness, and a shift in media framing all contributed to changing attitudes.

January 3, 2019 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Spotlighting the still-challenging politics that surround the intersection of marijuana reform, criminal justice reform and racial inequities

Today's must-read for both marijuana reform and criminal justice reform fans is this lengthy new Politico article fully headlined "Racial Justice and Legal Pot Are Colliding in Congress: The latest fight over criminal justice reform is over allowing felons access to newly legal aspects of the cannabis industry. Lawmakers are getting woke — slowly." I recommend this piece is full, and here are some extended excerpts:

Thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the [Farm] bill includes an amendment that would permanently remove hemp from the list of federally banned drugs like heroin and cocaine, freeing hemp from the crippling legal stigma that has made it economically unviable for the past four decades.  But that amendment also includes a little-noticed ban on people convicted of drug felonies from participating in the soon-to-be-federally-legal hemp industry.

Added late in the process, apparently to placate a stakeholder close to McConnell, the exception has angered a broad and bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, hemp industry insiders and religious groups who see it as a continuing punishment of minorities who were targeted disproportionately during the War on Drugs and now are being denied the chance to profit economically from a product that promises to make millions of dollars for mostly white investors on Wall Street....

[L]awmakers like McConnell, who have discovered the economic benefits of relaxing prohibitions on products such as hemp, have nevertheless quietly found ways, like the Farm Bill felon ban, to satisfy the demands of their anti-legalization constituents, to the chagrin of pro-cannabis lawmakers and activists. After POLITICO Magazine reported on the drug-crime felon ban in August, three senators — Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) — wrote to Senate leadership demanding the removal of the ban, citing its “disparate impact on minorities,” among other concerns.

“I think there’s a growing recognition of the hypocrisy and unfairness of our nation’s drug laws, when hundreds of thousands of Americans are behind bars for something that is now legal in nine states and something that two of the last three Presidents have admitted to doing,” Booker told POLITICO Magazine. “If we truly want to be a just and fair nation, marijuana legalization must be accompanied by record expungement and a focus on restorative justice.”...

[The] once-radical notion that felons ought to gain priority for entry into a newly legal industry — instead of being shut out — has quietly gained bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, albeit not among Republican leadership.  In the House, this mounting opposition to the continuing punishment of felons first cropped up in September when the Judiciary Committee passed its first pro-marijuana bill.  It would expand access to scientific study of the cannabis plant, a notion agreed-upon by marijuana’s supporters and detractors alike.  However, Democrats almost killed the bill because it included language that barred felons (and even people convicted of misdemeanors) from receiving licenses to produce the marijuana.

Felon bans are commonplace in legal marijuana programs.  Every state has some version of it, but most of them have a five- or 10-year limit.  But the felon bans in both the Senate’s Farm Bill and the House’s marijuana research bill are lifetime bans, and the House bill includes misdemeanors, too. “Any restriction on misdemeanors goes in the exact contrary direction of the Second Chance Act,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-New York), who will become chairman of the Judiciary Committee in January.  His criticism was echoed by Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), who sought to have the misdemeanor language struck from the bill until its sponsor, Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), promised to address that language when it comes to the House floor.

In the Senate, the movement to protect the legal marijuana trade has taken the form of the proposed bipartisan Gardner-Warren STATES Act, which would maintain the status quo of federal non-interference of state-legal programs that was upended when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo, an Obama-era document that outlined a hands-off approach to state-legal programs.  Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act would adopt California-style principles and apply them federally, going far beyond the STATES Act, removing marijuana from Schedule I (defined as having no medical value and a high risk of abuse) and eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana.  But unlike other pro-marijuana bills, it would also deny federal law-enforcement grants to states that don’t legalize marijuana; direct federal courts to expunge marijuana convictions; and establish a grant-making fund through the Department of Housing and Urban Development for communities most affected by the War on Drugs.

Booker’s bill has become popular among Senate Democrats.  Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Jeff Merkley and Elizabeth Warren have signed on as co-sponsors — a list that looks a lot like a lineup of presumed candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.  “For too long, the federal government has propped up failed and outdated drug policies that destroy lives,” Wyden told POLITICO Magazine.  “The War on Drugs is deeply rooted in racism.  We desperately need to not only correct course, but to also ensure equal justice for those who have been disproportionately impacted. People across America understand and want change. Now, Congress must act.”

Recent polling shows that Americans agree with Wyden — to a point.  There is a widespread acceptance of legalizing marijuana.  Gallup has been tracking this number since 1969, when only 12 percent of Americans believed in legalizing it; in October, Gallup put the number at 64 percent, the highest ever number recorded.  Pew says it is 62 percent, also its highest number ever. 

But there is far less acceptance of the idea that the War on Drugs has had an adverse impact on poorer, minority communities, or that there should be some form of compensation in terms of prioritized access to the new industry. A  poll conducted by Lake Research Partners, a progressive DC-based polling firm, earlier this year on the “Politics of Marijuana Legalization in 2018 Battleground Districts” found that 62 percent of the 800 likely voters surveyed agreed with the idea “we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed War on Drugs.”  However, when the pollsters added a racial component to this message — whether the respondents felt that the marijuana prohibition “unfairly target[s] and destroy[s] minority communities” — only 40 percent found that message to be “very convincing.”...

[M]any members of the Congressional Black Caucus have been slow to support marijuana legalization. But the CBC finally made its position on this issue clear in June when its 48-member caucus voted in an “overwhelming majority” to support policies beyond mere decriminalization: “Some of the same folks who told African Americans ‘three strikes and you’re out’ when it came to marijuana use and distribution, are now in support of decriminalizing the drug and making a profit off of it,” CBC Chairman Cedric L. Richmond, Democrat from Louisiana said at the time. “The Congressional Black Caucus supports decriminalizing marijuana and investing in communities that were destroyed by the War on Drugs…” 

Arguments for legalizing marijuana haven’t been entirely persuasive to sway many in the conservative black community, but re-framing it in the context of civil rights has brought many around to this new way of thinking. “What is moving conservative black and brown folks is this idea that we’re on the horizon of marijuana legalization,” according to Queen Adesuyi of the Drug Policy Alliance. “So the idea is in order to do this in a way that is equitable and fair, you have to start on the front end of alleviating racially biased consequences of prohibition while we’re legalizing — and that means expungement, re-sentencing, community re-investment, and looking at where marijuana tax revenue can go, and getting rid of barriers to the industry.”

Now that Democrats have won control of the House, co-founder of the Cannabis Caucus, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), is poised to implement his blueprint for how the House under Democratic leadership would legalize marijuana at the federal level.  Racial justice is front-and-center in that plan.  The memo he sent to Democratic leadership reads in part, “committees should start marking up bills in their jurisdiction that would responsibly narrow the marijuana policy gap — the gap between federal and state marijuana laws — before the end of the year. These policy issues… should include: Restorative justice measures that address the racial injustices that resulted from the unequal application of federal marijuana laws.”

Cross-posted at Sentencing Law & Policy

November 18, 2018 in Business laws and regulatory issues, Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Criminal justice developments and reforms, Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, Polling data and results, Race, Gender and Class Issues, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Effective "2018 midterm report" with visuals on modern politics and policy of marijuana reform

The folks at PoliFact have this lengthy new piece under the headline "Marijuana legalization in 5 charts: A 2018 midterm report" that is worth reading in full. This infographic under the title "Potential $7 Billion Recreational Marijuana Tax Revenue, By State," highlighting revenue from marijuana reform is alone worth the click-through, and here are excerpts from the piece providing a glimpse at what the "5 charts" cover:

About two in three Americans now favor marijuana legalization, a record-high measure of public support for a drug the federal government still puts in the same category as LSD and heroin.

With a majority of states now permitting legal use in some form, and several states poised to relax their laws this November, we decided to take a graphical look at the country’s most popular illicit drug.

Changing attitudes

Experts pointed to a number of reasons to explain the dramatic shift in Americans’ opinion of marijuana legalization over a relatively short timespan....

State marijuana laws

American laws around marijuana are complicated....

State tax revenue

Taxing marijuana can yield a large pot of money for states. The data is still somewhat scarce given that legalization is still in its infancy....

Criminal justice

The country’s decades-long crackdown on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on minorities....

Social impact

Some experts said the pros of legalization far outweighed the cons, while others said it’s too early to tell....

October 28, 2018 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Taxation information and issues | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 22, 2018

Latest Gallup polling reports yet another record-high level of support for marijuana legalization in US

Atnixz8w2kguea_rrm-a7qAs reported in this new posting from Gallup, "Sixty-six percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, another new high in Gallup's trend over nearly half a century.  The latest figure marks the third consecutive year that support on the measure has increased and established a new record."  Here is more:

Legalizing the use of pot was an unpopular idea when Gallup first asked Americans about it in 1969 -- just 12% at that time said it should be made legal.  Support grew in the 1970s but stagnated in the 20% range until the new millennium, when momentum for legalization picked up again.  Since 2000, support for legalizing marijuana has trended steeply upward, reaching majority support for the first time in 2013 -- a year after Colorado and Washington voters legalized recreational use of marijuana via ballot initiatives, making them the first states to do so.  Marijuana use continues to be illegal at the federal level.

The Oct. 1-10 Gallup poll was conducted before Canada last week became the second country in the world to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. In the U.S., voters in four states are voting this year on measures to allow for recreational or medical use of marijuana....

Gallup found last year that a slim majority of Republicans supported legal marijuana for the first time, and this year's figure, 53%, suggests continued Republican support.  Views that pot should be legalized have also reached new peaks this year among Democrats (75%) and independents (71%). Democrats reached majority-level support for legalization in 2009, and independents did so in 2010.

Among Americans aged 55 and older, views that marijuana should be legalized now surpass the majority level, with 59% support, up from 50% last year. Meanwhile, solid majorities of younger adults have supported legalization for several years.  Support is strongest among adults aged 18 to 34, at 78%, while nearly two in three adults aged 35 to 54 (65%) approve of legalizing marijuana.

In 2009 and 2010 -- before any state had legalized pot -- support for legalization reached the majority level in only one U.S. region -- the West, at 56%.  And in most polls since, residents in the West, along with Eastern residents, have led the remaining regions in favoring legalized pot.

But attitudes about legalization have changed more recently: In 2017 and 2018, support for legalization of marijuana is about even in the East (67%), Midwest (65%), South (65%) and West (65%).

Like support for gay marriage -- and in prior years, interracial marriage -- support for marijuana legalization has generally only expanded, even if slowly, over the course of multiple decades -- raising the question of where the ceiling in support might be.  As the percentage of Americans who favor legalizing pot has continued to grow, so has the number of states that have taken up legislation to allow residents to use the substance recreationally. States that permit use of medical marijuana are even more prevalent in the U.S. than states allowing recreational pot are.

After this year's elections, recreational pot use could be allowed in two more states, depending on what voters decide in North Dakota and Michigan.  Both of these states border Canada, whose adult residents now have access to legal marijuana nationwide.  Meanwhile, state lawmakers in New Jersey are moving closer to passing legislation to legalize pot, and neighboring New York might not be far behind after the state's health department conducted a study that led to its recommendation that marijuana be legal.

But even as many states take action to legalize pot, to date, no Midwestern or Southern states permit legal recreational use -- though medicinal marijuana is allowed in a few of these states.  Now that public support is consistent across U.S. regions, legalization could spread to new areas in the future.

October 22, 2018 in Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Go (mid)west, young activist, go see marijuana reform's destiny in 2018 election cycle

Download (2)The title of this post is my weak attempt to make a play on the phrase "Go West, young man" to capture Manifest Destiny concepts combined now with this new AP article about marijuana reform efforts this election year.  The AP piece is headlined "Marijuana backers look for Midwest breakthrough in November," and here are excerpts:

Backers of broad marijuana legalization are looking to break through a geographic barrier in November and get their first foothold in the Midwest after a string of election victories in Northeastern and Western states.

Michigan and North Dakota, where voters previously authorized medical marijuana, will decide if the drug should be legal for any adult 21 and older. They would become the 10th and 11th states to legalize so-called recreational marijuana since 2012, lightning speed in political terms.

Meantime, Missouri and Utah will weigh medical marijuana, which is permitted in 31 states after voters in conservative Oklahoma approved such use in June. Even if Utah’s initiative is defeated, a compromise reached last week between advocates and opponents including the Mormon church would have the Legislature legalize medical marijuana.

“We’ve kind of reached a critical mass of acceptance,” said Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan assistant professor of health management and policy. She said the country may be at a “breaking point” where change is inevitable at the federal level because so many states are in conflict with U.S. policy that treats marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin. “Generally, people either find a therapeutic benefit or enjoy the substance and want to do so without the fear of being a criminal for using it,” Haffajee said....

In Michigan, surveys show the public’s receptiveness to marijuana legalization tracks similarly with nationwide polling that finds about 60 percent support, according to Gallup and the Pew Research Center.

The Washington-based Marijuana Policy Project was the driving force behind successful legalization initiatives in other states and has given at least $444,000 for the Michigan ballot drive. “The electorate is recognizing that prohibition doesn’t work. There’s also a growing societal acceptance of marijuana use on a personal level,” said Matthew Schweich, the project’s deputy director. “Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it’s a question of, ‘How quickly will the laws catch up?’” added Schweich, also the campaign director for the Michigan legalization effort, known as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Midwest voters have considered recreational legalization just once before, in 2015, when Ohio overwhelmingly rejected it. Supporters said the result was more back lash against allowing only certain private investors to control growing facilities than opposition to marijuana.

Proponents of Michigan’s measure say it would align with a new, strong regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses and add roughly $130 million annually in tax revenue, specifically for road repairs, schools and municipalities. Military veterans and retired police officers are among those backing legalization in online ads that were launched Tuesday.

Critics say the Michigan proposal is out of step and cite provisions allowing a possession limit of 2.5 ounces (71 grams) that is higher than many other states and a 16 percent tax rate that is lower. Opponents include chambers of commerce and law enforcement groups along with doctors, the Catholic Church and organizations fighting substance abuse....

In North Dakota, legalization faces an uphill battle. No significant outside supporters have financed the effort, which comes as the state still is setting up a medical marijuana system voters approved by a wide margin two years ago.

The medical marijuana campaign in predominantly Mormon Utah, which has received $293,000 from the Marijuana Policy Project, was jolted last week when Gov. Gary Herbert said he will call lawmakers into a special postelection session to pass a compromise deal into law regardless of how the public vote goes.

Medical marijuana also is on the ballot in Missouri and while the concept has significant support, voters may be confused by its ballot presentation. Supporters gathered enough signatures to place three initiatives before voters. Two would change the state constitution; the third would amend state law. If all three pass, constitutional amendments take precedence over state law, and whichever amendment receives the most votes would overrule the other.

An organizer of one amendment, physician and attorney Brad Bradshaw, said it is unclear if having three initiatives could split supporters so much that some or all of the proposals fail. “A lot of people don’t really even have this on the radar at this point,” he said. “They’re going to walk into the booth to vote and they’re going to see all three of these and say, ‘What the heck?’ You just don’t know how it’s going to play out.”

October 10, 2018 in Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Latest Pew polling data shows continuing increase in support for marijuana legalization

FT_18.10.05_marijuana_US-public-opinion-1969-2018bThis new Pew piece, headlined "About six-in-ten Americans support marijuana legalization," reports on the latest polling numbers on support for marijuana reform. Here are the details:

About six-in-ten Americans (62%) say the use of marijuana should be legalized, reflecting a steady increase over the past decade, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. The share of U.S. adults who support marijuana legalization is little changed from about a year ago – when 61% favored it – but it is double what it was in 2000 (31%).

As in the past, there are wide generational and partisan differences in views of marijuana legalization. Majorities of Millennials (74%), Gen Xers (63%) and Baby Boomers (54%) say the use of marijuana should be legal. Members of the Silent Generation continue to be the least supportive of legalization (39%), but they have become more supportive in the past year.

Nearly seven-in-ten Democrats (69%) say marijuana use should be legal, as do 75% of independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. Republicans are divided, with 45% in favor of legalizing marijuana and 51% opposed. Still, the share of Republicans saying marijuana should be legal has increased from 39% in 2015. Independents who lean toward the Republican Party are far more likely than Republicans to favor marijuana legalization (59% vs. 45%)....

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized the drug for recreational purposes, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than half the states (31) – plus the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico – have legalized it for medical purposes. Marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

The list of states that have legalized marijuana could expand this November.  Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will decide whether to allow recreational use, while those in Missouri and Utah will decide on medical use.  In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert announced this month that he would call a special session in November to debate a different medical marijuana proposal, regardless of how the ballot measure turns out.

October 9, 2018 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Lots of new reports on lots of new research on lots of marijuana topics

Monday, July 23, 2018

"Risks and Benefits of Marijuana Use: A National Survey of U.S. Adults"

Download (17)The title of this post is the title of this new research appearing in the Annals of Internal Medicine.  Here is its abstract:

Background: Despite insufficient evidence regarding its risks and benefits, marijuana is increasingly available and aggressively marketed to the public.

Objective: To understand the public's views on the risks and benefits of marijuana use.

Design: Probability-based online survey.

Setting: United States, 2017.

Participants: 16,280 U.S. adults.

Measurements: Proportion of U.S. adults who agreed with a statement.

Results:

The response rate was 55.3% (n = 9003). Approximately 14.6% of U.S. adults reported using marijuana in the past year.

About 81% of U.S. adults believe marijuana has at least 1 benefit, whereas 17% believe it has no benefit. The most common benefit cited was pain management (66%), followed by treatment of diseases, such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (48%), and relief from anxiety, stress, and depression (47%).

About 91% of U.S. adults believe marijuana has at least 1 risk, whereas 9% believe it has no risks. The most common risk identified by the public was legal problems (51.8%), followed by addiction (50%) and impaired memory (42%).

Among U.S. adults, 29.2% agree that smoking marijuana prevents health problems. About 18% believe exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke is somewhat or completely safe for adults, whereas 7.6% indicated that it is somewhat or completely safe for children. Of the respondents, 7.3% agree that marijuana use is somewhat or completely safe during pregnancy. About 22.4% of U.S. adults believe that marijuana is not at all addictive.

Limitation: Wording of the questions may have affected interpretation.

Conclusion: Americans' view of marijuana use is more favorable than existing evidence supports. 

July 23, 2018 in Polling data and results, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 4, 2018

According to Gallup, "Most in U.S. Say Consuming Alcohol, Marijuana Morally OK"

Pan9mim7h0gglsk6cqsz1wThis news release reports on an interesting new Gallup survey concerning American moral perspectives. Here are excerpts:

Large majorities of Americans believe that using substances like alcohol and marijuana are morally permissible. Specifically, 78% say drinking alcohol is morally acceptable and 65% say smoking marijuana is.

Alcohol and marijuana rank near the top of the list of practices Americans consider morally acceptable. Only birth control, at 91%, gets a higher percentage sanctioning it than drinking alcohol does. Smoking marijuana trails birth control, drinking alcohol and divorce (76%), but is on par with widely accepted acts including gambling, sex between an unmarried man and woman, gay or lesbian relations, stem cell research, and having a baby outside of marriage.

Americans are least likely to regard married men and women having an affair, cloning humans, polygamy and suicide as morally OK. Their opinions are most closely divided on morality of abortion -- 43% believe it is morally acceptable and 48% believe it is not.

Gallup's trends on many of these items date back to 2001. On most, Americans have adopted more permissive views over time. Presumably, this also applies to the new item on smoking marijuana, given the surge over the past two decades in the percentage who say that smoking the drug should be legal. In fact, the 64% who last fall said marijuana should be legal nearly matches the 65% who say smoking it is morally acceptable.

Majorities of key subgroups of Americans regard both drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana as morally acceptable, but highly religious Americans, as measured by the frequency with which they attend church, are less likely to do so. Whereas 88% of those who seldom or never attend religious services find drinking alcohol to be morally acceptable, 60% of those who attend weekly hold that view. And while three-quarters of non-attenders say smoking marijuana is OK, less than half of regular churchgoers, 41%, agree.

Other subgroup differences, including those by gender, age, race and political ideology, appear to reflect differences in church attendance among those groups. For example, nonwhites, women, older Americans and conservatives are more likely to attend church but less likely to say smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol are OK.

In nearly every key subgroup, a greater percentage say drinking alcohol is morally acceptable than says the same about smoking marijuana. Young adults, ideological liberals and moderates are notable exceptions, as these three groups are about equally likely to find the two practices morally acceptable. In contrast to liberals and moderates, ideological conservatives are far more likely to view drinking alcohol (75%) than smoking marijuana (47%) as acceptable moral behavior.

Most Americans do not object on moral grounds to people drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana. Of the two, they are more likely to see drinking alcohol as an acceptable behavior, perhaps because it is legal in all states while smoking marijuana is not. Some states have recently legalized marijuana and many others are considering doing so, perhaps removing some of the stigma associated with the drug. But with roughly two-thirds of the public saying marijuana use is morally acceptable, it seems there will not be sufficient opposition to thwart attempts to make it legal.

June 4, 2018 in History of Alcohol Prohibition and Temperance Movements, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 16, 2018

"Evaluating ballot initiative support for legalised marijuana: The case of Washington"

The title of this post is the title of this interesting new piece authored by Loren Collingwood, Ben Gonzalez O’Brien and Sarah Dreier published int The International Journal of Drug Policy. Here is the abstract:

Background

In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first U.S. states to legalise recreational marijuana. By 2016, eight states and the District of Columbia had legalised recreational marijuana, with more expected to consider it in 2018. Despite this trend, little academic research explains what drives ballot-initiative vote choice on marijuana legalisation.

Methods

This paper uses a pre-election random sample voter survey to examine the individual characteristics that correlated with Washington voters’ support for legal recreational marijuana.

Results

We find that voting on marijuana ballot initiatives largely reflects public opinion about marijuana and is particularly shaped voters’ political ideology, party affiliation, religious affiliation and practice, and education. Notably, we find that those reporting experiences (i.e., someone they know) with the criminal justice system are more supportive of legalisation than those who do not.

Conclusion

We conclude that marijuana legalisation voting behavior generally aligns with public opinion on the issue. However, one key aspect of Washington’s legalisation campaign–the criminal injustices of marijuana illegality–helped shape Washington state voting behavior. Further research is needed to examine if, when, and in what contexts criminal justice campaign themes are likely to strengthen or undermine future states’ marijuana legalisation efforts.

March 16, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Noticing that some politicians are finally noticing that marijuana reform could be winning political issue

Download (8)Long-time readers know I have often posted articles and commentaries suggesting that politicians would be wise to see the potential to attract younger and independent voters by showing interest in marijuana reform.  This new Politico article suggest some folks running for Congress are finally getting this message.   The full headline of the lengthy piece highlights its themes: "These Red-State Democrats Think Legal Marijuana Can Help Them Win: With sky-high approval rates, pot is an issue challengers say will cure the Democratic malaise in Trump country."  Here are excerpts that everyone interested in the politics of marijuana reform should read in full:

Not so long ago — like maybe last cycle — a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1.  But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.  The numbers, they say, are on their side, not the side of the politicians who either duck the subject or endorse Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ apparent desire to return federal marijuana policy back to the “Just Say No” days of the Reagan administration.

In a 2016 poll of Indiana residents, approval for medical marijuana was at 73 percent.  In a state struggling, like so many others, with a massive opioid crisis, there’s been no sign that support for legalizing marijuana has waned. A 2012 survey from the Bowen Center of Public Affairs showed that 78 percent of Hoosiers supported taxing marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes, far above the 55 percent who supported then-governor Mike Pence — a sign that support for marijuana law reform in Indiana is no statistical blip.  In fact, according to [congressional candidate Dan] Canon, it has only gotten stronger, and not just in blue bubbles like Bloomington but in rural and suburban communities, too. That’s why, in December, Canon released a web video ad declaring his stance clearly, “Here’s one simple solution that’s long overdue: We need to legalize medical marijuana nationwide.” He even got some international press out of it.

Subsequently, his chief primary opponent, law school professor Liz Watson, instead of criticizing Canon’s position, posted a detailed pro-medical marijuana position on her website to eliminate any daylight between her and Canon on this issue. “In Southern Indiana, we are battling a raging opioid epidemic.  The last thing we need is for the federal government to punish people for turning to non-addictive alternatives to opioids,” she told POLITICO Magazine.  “We also do not need the federal government restricting study into the medical uses of marijuana.  Federal law currently categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, along with heroin, while oxycodone is Schedule 2. That makes no sense.” Watson’s stance nearly guarantees that no matter who survives the primary to face Trey Hollingsworth in the general, the Democrat in the race will be on the record as in favor of medical marijuana.

The candidates of Indiana’s 9th are not alone in their desire to use marijuana as a rallying flag. House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, plus Senate races in Texas and Nevada all feature Democratic candidates who have taken strong stands in favor of changing the federal marijuana laws, and running against Republican incumbents who have not.

“There’s nationwide support for recreational marijuana, and support for medical marijuana is even higher than that,” Al Cross, the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues at the University of Kentucky, told POLITICO Magazine.  According to Cross, there’s not much difference in the support for marijuana legalization in rural Southern states than in the Western blue states more commonly associated with marijuana.  “For some voters, marijuana could be a defining issue. We just don’t know how many that’s going to be yet.”...

It won’t be known for some months yet whether legalization has the power to take out sitting Republicans, but there’s no question that it is potent enough to change the complexion of primary races, at least in districts that have large college populations.

Take a look at what’s happening across the Ohio River from the Indiana 9th, in Kentucky’s 6th Congressional district, which includes both the University of Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky University.  The Democratic field to unseat the three-term Republican incumbent Andy Barr has developed into an interesting portrait of the current Democratic Party coalition: a black state senator, a female veteran, and a gay mayor.  State Senator Reggie Thomas, who represents a portion of Lexington in the Kentucky Senate, was first in the race to come out in favor of medical marijuana.  In a web video he states, “The evidence is clear. Medical marijuana helps those with chronic pain and other medical conditions.” In the same 60-second video, Thomas announced he was signing on as a co-sponsor of a medical marijuana bill in the state Senate.  Asked by POLITICO Magazine if there was a campaign strategy associated with his advocacy of medical marijuana in order to differentiate himself from his primary opponents, Thomas wouldn’t take the bait, saying only that, “it’s just the right thing to do.”...

There are few places where marijuana politics are more exciting than in West Virginia, thanks to state senator (and retired U.S. Army major) Richard Ojeda, who is currently a candidate for Congress in West Virginia’s 3rd with a position on medical marijuana that has given him strong statewide name recognition.  “Anyone with half a brain should know that marijuana should never be Schedule I,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine over the phone, sounding more like Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey than his own state’s Democratic senator, Joe Manchin.

Medical marijuana is as popular in West Virginia as Donald Trump. Nearly 68 percent of West Virginians voted for Trump in 2016, but after a year in office, the average of his 2017 approval rating according to the Gallup tracking poll has slid to 61 percent.  Conversely, West Virginia’s acceptance of medical marijuana has risen from 61 percent in early 2017 to 67 percent today, according to an Orion Strategies poll released last month.

Not merely an advocate for medical marijuana, Ojeda (pronounced oh-JEH-dah) criticizes the federal law that requires mandatory prison sentences for criminal marijuana cultivation: “One to five years? That’s garbage,” he told me. Instead, Ojeda, 47, believes that outlaw marijuana growers shouldn’t go to prison at all.  He thinks it should be a misdemeanor for a first offense, and that the harshest sentence for a repeat offender should be home confinement.  Those positions were once far outside the Democratic Party mainstream, but it’s difficult for Ojeda’s opponents to characterize him as a liberal who is soft on crime when he served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2016, Ojeda ran for a West Virginia state Senate seat against a longtime incumbent Democrat and won the primary by 2,000 votes.  In his opening act as a freshman legislator, Ojeda sponsored a medical marijuana bill and quarterbacked it through both chambers, making West Virginia the 29th state to legalize it.  This was a stunning turn of events, even for marijuana advocacy groups, who had spent no money to support Ojeda’s effort. “There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine.  “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”...

These red-state Democrats have found strong footing on a position to the left of their party’s leadership in Washington, D.C., and it seems to be working for them. None of them seem shaken by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent announcement he would end the Obama administration’s hands-off approach to prosecuting marijuana crimes in states that had legalized it. Ojeda told POLITICO Magazine: “I think we are on the verge of eventually voting in favor of marijuana [at the national level],”

February 6, 2018 in Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Political perspective on reforms, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)