Dozens of lawmakers and political candidates are posting hundreds of paid Facebook advertisements touting their support for cannabis law reform, a new Marijuana Moment analysis shows.
High-profile members of Congress such as Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) collectively paid for 64 political ads referencing marijuana last month alone.
All told, more than 2,000 promoted posts referencing “marijuana” or “cannabis” have been shared since Facebook launched its ad archive database this spring.
The trend serves as another measure of the growing national support for marijuana reform—and the number of politicians who are campaigning on pledges to make it happen.
It’s not just high-profile members of Congress who used Facebook to attract cannabis friendly voters.
Committees to elect delegates, mayors, governors and state representatives also paid for Facebook ads that referenced “cannabis” or “marijuana.” For most candidates, their committees paid for two to three posts over the course of June, but some outliers posted dozens of marijuana-related political ads.
By far the most prolific poster of pro-legalization ads in June was Booker, widely believed to be considering a run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. In one month, the Facebook page Cory Booker for Senate paid for 51 marijuana-related ads. The bulk of these posts concerned the senator’s Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and impose policies aimed at remediating the racial injustices of the drug war.
“It’s time to legalize marijuana,” one post reads. “For decades, the failed War on Drugs has locked up millions of nonviolent drug offenders, especially for marijuana-related offenses. This has wasted human potential, torn apart families and communities, and squandered massive sums of taxpayer dollars.”
But it was Gillibrand, another senator considered a likely contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, who dominated the marijuana political ad game over the past four months. The New York senator shared more than 100 paid-for political ads on Facebook referencing marijuana.
Many of those ads prompted followers to respond to questions such as, “Should we decriminalize marijuana?”
And almost 50 of Gillibrand’s posts were promoted on April 20, the unofficial cannabis celebration holiday…
Only one of about 100 political pages included in this analysis promoted a candidate’s opposition to recreational marijuana legalization, in a mayoral race.
Overall, Facebook’s political ad search tool shows that more than 1,400 ads containing the word “marijuana” were launched since the site began archiving such posts, though not all of those were posted by political candidates; some are from advocacy organizations or news outlets. Another 560 or so contain the word “cannabis,” according to the database.
Why spend money to showcase a political figure’s pro-legalization views? Because it makes political sense.
Not only do a sizable majority of Americans support cannabis legalization, but surveys have also found that lawmakers who back reform efforts score easy political points among voters. One recent poll found that 44 percent of voters in “battleground” congressional districts would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legalization, for example.
While most marijuana-related ads were paid for by committees for Democratic candidates, they were by no means confined to traditionally “blue state” candidates. Office-seekers everywhere from Oklahoma to Georgia to Wyoming had paid political posts about their cannabis views.
Facebook has come under fire for its policy regarding marijuana-related posts, with some cannabis businesses in legal states complaining that they’re unable to pay for advertisements. The social media company does permit educational marijuana content, but page owners often have to go through a lengthy appeals process to get their ads about cannabis articles cleared for promotion after they are automatically initially blocked by an algorithm because of the keywords they contain.
Several posts included in this analysis were removed for allegedly violating Facebook’s advertising policies.
Top Trump Campaign Spokesman: Marijuana Must Be ‘Kept Illegal’
Asked in a new interview about President Trump’s position on changing federal marijuana laws, a top reelection campaign aide said the administration’s policy is that cannabis and other currently illegal drugs should remain illegal.
“I think what the president is looking at is looking at this from a standpoint of a parent of a young person to make sure that we keep our kids away from drugs,” Marc Lotter, director of strategic communications for the Trump 2020 effort, said in an interview with Las Vegas CBS affiliate KLAS-TV.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Virginia Marijuana Decriminalization Gets Closer To Governor’s Desk With New Amendments
One week after bills to decriminalize marijuana in Virginia were passed by both the House and Senate, they advanced again on Wednesday in committee votes, where they were revised in an effort to ease the path to the governor’s desk.
The goal was to make the language of the bills identical, with lawmakers hoping to streamline the process by avoiding sending differing pieces of decriminalization legislation to a bicameral conference committee to resolve differences.
The House of Delegates and Senate were under pressure to approve their respective versions of decriminalization ahead of a crossover deadline last week. After clearing floor votes in their respective chambers, the Senate-passed bill was sent to the House Court of Justice Committee, while the House’s legislation was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Those panels amended the bills and advanced them on Wednesday, with senators voting 10-4 to advance the revised legislation and delegates voting 8-5. However, the Senate panel also struck a part of the text of a compromise substitute version concerning a record clearing provision while the House committee accepted the substitute as offered.
That means it will be up to the Finance Committees to resolve the remaining differences if lawmakers hope to skip the conference step prior to full floor votes in both chambers.
Regardless of the unexpected complication, advocates said the new committee actions represent a positive development.
“Fortunately, the patrons were able to reach a consensus and move the bills forward,” Jenn Michelle Pedini, executive director of Virginia NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “Virginians have waited long enough for this important step, one that will dramatically reduce both marijuana arrests and the collateral consequences that follow such charges.”
The legislation as amended would make possession of up to one ounce a civil penalty punishable by a $25 fine without the threat of jail time. Currently, simple possession is punishable by a maximum $500 fine and up to 30 days in jail.
A provision that would have allowed courts to sentence individuals to up to five hours of community service in lieu of the civil penalty was removed with the latest revisions. The bill also stipulates that juveniles found in possession of cannabis will be treated as delinquent, rather than go through a less punitive process for a “child in need of service.”
Language providing a means to seal prior records for marijuana convictions was successfully reinserted into the House Courts of Justice Committee-passed bill after it was previously removed and placed in a separate expungement bill. That latter legislation is stalled, so lawmakers put it back into the decriminalization measure via the substitute to ensure its enactment.
The Senate Judiciary moved to delete that section, however, creating complications for avoiding a conference committee.
Meanwhile, the House Rules Committee voted in favor of a separate Senate-passed resolution on Wednesday that calls for the establishment of a joint commission to “study and make recommendations for how Virginia should go about legalizing and regulating the growth, sale, and possession of marijuana by July 1, 2022, and address the impacts of marijuana prohibition.” That vote was 12-5.
That’s a significant step, as the legislature is generally reluctant to enact bold reform without first conducting a study on the issue.
While Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is in favor of decriminalization, including a call for the policy change in his State of the Commonwealth address last month, he’s yet to embrace adult-use legalization. That said, Attorney General Mark Herring (D), who is running to replace the term-limited governor in 2021, said he’s optimistic that Northam will come around on the issue.
Herring organized a cannabis summit late last year to hear from officials representing states that have already legalized marijuana. That’s one tool he said the governor could use as he considers broader reform.
Also on Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee advanced another Senate-passed bill to formally legalize possession of CBD and THC-A medial cannabis preparations that are recommended by a doctor, an expansion of the current policy simply offers patients arrested with it an affirmative defense in court.
For now, Virginia seems to be on the path to become the 27th state to decriminalize marijuana, and the first to do so in 2020. Last year, three states—New Mexico, Hawaii and North Dakota—also approved the policy change.
Alabama Lawmakers Approve Medical Marijuana Legalization Bill
An Alabama Senate committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.
The legislation would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase cannabis products from licensed dispensaries. It would be a limited system, however, prohibiting patients from smoking or vaping marijuana.
The Senate Judiciary Committee cleared the bill in a 8-1 vote, with one abstention. The next stop for the legislation will be the Senate floor.
The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for marijuana dispensaries, cultivators, transporters and testing facilities.
This vote comes two months after a panel created by the legislature, the Medical Cannabis Study Commission, issued a recommendation that Alabama implement a medical cannabis program.
The full Senate approved a medical cannabis legalization bill last year, but it was diluted in the House to only provide for the establishment of the study commission. Sen. Tim Melson (R) sponsored both versions of the legislation and served as chairman of the review panel.
The current bill has been revised from the earlier version. For example, this one does not require patients to exhaust traditional treatment options before they can access medical cannabis.
The committee also approved a series of amendments by voice vote, including several technical changes to the bill. Another one would shield physicians from liability for recommending medical cannabis. One would clarify that employees are ineligible for workers’ compensation for accidents caused by being intoxicated by medical cannabis, which is the same standard as other drugs.
Watch the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee debate and vote on medical cannabis below:
Members also agreed to an amendment creating a restriction on who can be on the cannabis commission.
While it’s not clear how the House would approach the bill if it advances to the chamber this year, the speaker said this week that he’s “in a wait and see mode” and commended Melson for his work on the measure. The state’s attorney general, meanwhile, sent a letter to lawmakers expressing opposition to the reform move.
Under the measure, patients suffering from 15 conditions would qualify for the program. Those include anxiety, cancer, epilepsy and post-traumatic stress disorder. Patients would be able to purchase up to a 70-day supply at a time, and there would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.
Prior to the vote, committee heard from a series of proponents and opponents, including parents who shared anecdotes about the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for their children. Interest in the reform move was so strong that an overflow crowd has to be moved to a separate hearing room.
“Sometimes people are not able to empathize with others who have gone through something. I guarantee you if one of relatives, members of the legislature, went through something like the testimonies that we’ve heard today, they would want it,” Sen. Vivian Figures (D) said. “But they would probably have the means to fly somewhere and get it.”
One thing we're watching on Goat Hill today is the medical marijuana bill. Alabama is one of only 17 states where medical cannabis remains illegal. https://t.co/V8CK8nm6mm
— Alabama Democrats (@aldemocrats) February 19, 2020
There would be a number of restrictions under the bill when it comes to advertising. It would also require seed-to-sale tracking for marijuana products, set packaging and labeling requirements and impose criminal background checks for licensed facility employees.
A nine percent tax would be levied on “gross proceeds of the sales of medical cannabis” sold at a retail medical cannabis dispensary. Part of those funds would go toward creating a new Consortium for Medical Cannabis Research, which would provide grants to study the plant.
Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee also approved a bill to decriminalize marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.