Marijuana and the midterms

Marijuana and the midterms
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Elections can hold significant consequences when it comes to the future of marijuana policy. In 2016 voters in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada approved ballot initiatives legalizing adult marijuana use. While voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota elected to either legalize or expand medical cannabis access. The outcome of the 2018 midterm elections will be equally important.

Voters in Michigan will decide on Proposal 1, which permits people over the age of 21 to possess and grow personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates. It would  also offer licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales.


According to polling released earlier this month the measure enjoys broad support with 62 percent of registered voters saying that they intend to vote for the law. Among Michigan voters between the ages of 18 and 29 a whopping 92 percent endorse the plan.

North Dakota voters will also weigh in on legalization on Election Day. If enacted Measure 3 would legalize the possession and use of marijuana by adults and automatically expunge most prior cannabis convictions. These changes would have a dramatic effect on policing efforts in the state. According to an analysis of FBI data North Dakota currently ranks sixth in the United States for per capita marijuana arrests.

Missouri and Utah will also decide on ballot questions specific to providing medical cannabis access. In Missouri, voters will choose among three separate ballot proposals. All three are currently polling above 60 percent support. In Utah voters will weigh in on Proposition 2, which regulates the licensed production and distribution of medical cannabis products to qualified patients. According to statewide polling data released last week, 64 percent of likely voters, including the majority of active Latter Day Saints, support the proposal.

Voters in a number of other states, such California, Ohio and Wisconsin will also decide on a number of municipal ballot measures this November. For example, voters in Dayton, Ohio will consider depenalizing local marijuana offenses. In Wisconsin voters in over a dozen counties will decide on a variety of public policy questions specific to legalizing the plant.

The battle over the control of the U.S. House and Senate also holds major implications for the future of federal marijuana policy reform. Despite overwhelming public support in favor of ending the federal government’s longstanding prohibitive stance, GOP leadership has largely limited any serious legislative movement in Congress.

Specifically, House Judiciary Chair Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Senate Judiciary Chair Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleyThe peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Advocates frustrated over pace of drug price reform Trump drug pricing setbacks put pressure on Congress MORE (R-Iowa) have publicly acknowledged their outright refusal to move dozens of marijuana reform bills out of committee. Their refusal to act includes failing to hold even a single hearing on the bipartisan STATES Act, which enjoys the endorsement of President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE.

Similarly Texas Republican Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHillicon Valley — Presented by CTIA and America's wireless industry — Lawmaker sees political payback in fight over 'deepfakes' measure | Tech giants to testify at hearing on 'censorship' claims | Google pulls the plug on AI council Lawmaker alleges political payback in failed 'deepfakes' measure As Russia collusion fades, Ukrainian plot to help Clinton emerges MORE has used his position as Chairman of the House Rules Committee to block House floor members from voting on over three-dozen marijuana-related amendments during his leadership tenure.

Other GOP leaders recently stripped away provisions, initially enacted by the Senate by a vote of 85-to-9 to facilitate medical cannabis access to military veterans. It marked the second time in two years that Republicans had used the reconciliation process to deny veterans the ability to access medical marijuana in those states that permit it.

By contrast, Democrat leadership has grown increasingly outspoken in support of passing marijuana reforms in recent years and it is likely that a Democrat-controlled Congress would — at a minimum — allow floor votes on key pieces of legislation. Speaking with Bloomberg news last week Rep. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerOvernight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners Overnight Energy: Critics worry Trump ignoring plight of honeybees | EPA employee protests union contract while receiving award from Wheeler | Green groups team up to host presidential climate summit MORE (R-Rep.) predicted that a Democrat-led Congress would address the cannabis issue “in short order,” likely passing reform legislation within its first six months.  

Since 1996 voters have seized the opportunity on Election Day to approve ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana access in over a dozen states. If past is precedent reformers will once again have numerous victories to celebrate on Nov. 7 while setting their sights on broader federal reforms in 2019.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.