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.”
GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses
A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.
During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.
Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”
“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.
“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.
“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”
Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.
While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”
Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.
“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”
Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.
Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.
American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients
The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.
The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.
Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”
HOD Res 103D: Adopted. Urges enactment of laws to ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banks and financial institutions to provide cannabis-related services. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”
A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.
“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”
“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”
The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.
Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”
HOD Res 103B: Adopted as revised. Urges enactment of laws to ensure lawyers can provide legal advice and services for clients' legal marijuana-related activities. #ABAMidyear
— American Bar Association (@ABAesq) February 17, 2020
Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.
An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”
A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”
“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”
Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.
Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market
The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.
While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.
Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”
“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”
“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”
One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.
Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”
Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.
In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.