Support for marijuana legalization is at an all-time high across party lines, a new poll finds.
Sixty-eight percent of American voters now want to end cannabis prohibition, according to the survey released on Wednesday by leading progressive think tank the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the research firm GBA Strategies.
Breaking down the demographics, here’s who’s now on board with legalizing marijuana:
- 57 percent of Republicans
- 77 percent of Democrats
- 62 percent of independents
- 66 percent of men
- 69 percent of women
- 69 percent of whites
- 72 percent of African Americans
- 64 percent of Latinos
The poll, which surveyed 1,000 registered voters, also found sizable, bipartisan support for measures to seal the criminal records of nonviolent offenders who serve their sentences.
Other recent national surveys examining American sentiment toward cannabis reform have shown similar majority support for legalization: Gallup released a 2017 poll that found 64 percent of Americans support legalization, for example, and a Quinnipiac University survey this April showed 63 percent support.
But the CAP legalization numbers are the highest yet.
While the upward movement in public opinion with respect to legalization has been a consistent trend, especially over the past decade, the bipartisan nature of the new survey results is significant.
“In an era of increasing partisanship, public support for ending cannabis criminalization is an issue that crosses party lines,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said in a press release. “More and more, elected officials—and those who wish to be elected—must acknowledge that advocating in favor of marijuana policy reform is a political opportunity, not a political liability.”
Ed Chung, vice president of criminal justice reform at CAP, told Marijuana Moment that the message is clear: cannabis legalization is the will of the people, and lawmakers should take note.
“[Legalization is] certainly going to be, at least, a bipartisan issue,” Chung said. “I think you’ll see a lot of progressive [elected officials] who are going to be out front about this.”
“Now, I think that there’s a lot of work still to be done about how this plays out in different states and nationally as well, but the first step is getting the concept of this socialized among elected leaders—and oftentimes, unfortunately, elected leaders are not leading on this issues, but following.”
Looking ahead to the 2020 presidential election, Chung said “this is going to be one of those issues that’s going to speed up very quickly.”
“Two and half years from now is a lifetime for this issue and for other social justice-type issues moving forward,” he said. “The support is going to only increase from here—that’s me looking into my crystal ball here—but I don’t see how any candidate, any credible candidate, who wants to capture the majority of the American public is going to look at this issue… I don’t think anybody can keep with supporting current policy.”
The survey also demonstrated widespread support “for states to automatically seal the records of nonviolent criminal offenders, allowing people who have served their time and paid their debts to re-enter society and pursue work, education, and family life,” the survey authors wrote.
A solid 70 percent of respondents agreed that states should “automatically seal the records of individuals convicted of nonviolent felonies or misdemeanors if the person has completed his or her sentence and has not committed another criminal offense.” That includes 75 percent of Democratic voters and 66 percent of Republican voters.
Notably, 58 percent of respondents said that they would be more likely to support a candidate who embraces legislation to give nonviolent offenders a clean slate, compared to just 18 percent who said they would be less likely to support such a candidate, the survey revealed.
The poll also found that 54 percent of marijuana legalization opponents support automatically sealing the records of people convicted of cannabis possession.
Chung said that the results reflected growing bipartisan consensus on issues related to criminal justice reform.
“The American public is showing not only support for changing the way the country has approached issues regarding substance use or substance misuse, but also trying to do something to help people who have been previously dragged through the criminal justice system,” he said. “I think a lot of criminal justice issues have that kind of really strange bedfellows, where you have progressives leading on social justice and the conservatives—libertarians especially—being on the [side of] government should stay out of my business.”
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.