Marijuana was once seen as a third-rail issue of politics: You touch it, you die. Not that many years ago, many candidates for public office ran as far and as fast as they could from cannabis issues out of fear they would be attacked as soft on drugs or soft on crime.
That’s no longer the case as polls have continued to show growing majority voter support for legalization, and nowhere are the new politics of marijuana clearer than in this month’s Illinois Democratic gubernatorial primary election.
Leading candidates to be the next chief executive of the Prairie State are waging a very public battle about who is best positioned to modernize marijuana laws, with some trying to embarrass others for lagging in their support for legalization.
Contenders in the March 20 primary got into a testy Twitter exchange on the issue over the weekend, with JB Pritzker, widely seen as the front-runner in the race, accusing opponent Chris Kennedy of merely pretending to back legalization, and Kennedy telling his supporters not to believe the other campaign’s claims.
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) March 3, 2018
Illinois should legalize marijuana. We will immediately broaden access to medical marijuana. Don’t let a mailer, tweet or phone call convince you otherwise. This is where I stand. https://t.co/MAeBt9QJAo
— Chris Kennedy (@KennedyforIL) March 3, 2018
The results of a new poll on the topic show why the candidates are going out of their way to be seen as more friendly to marijuana legalization than their rivals.
Two-thirds (66%) of the state’s voters favored legalization in a Southern Illinois University survey released on Monday. That’s compared to less than one-third (32%) who support continued prohibition.
Key demographics in the poll are especially on board, the crosstabs show:
- Democrats: 78%
- People under 35 years old: 89%
- Liberals: 83%
Republicans are split on legalization, with 49% for and 49% against. Independents favor ending prohibition, 62% to 36%.
Across the state, legalization enjoys majority support among all age groups, races, geographic regions, income groups and education levels, as well as from both men and women.
The survey also showed that legalization supporters have intensity on their side: 46% are strongly in favor, compared to just 24% who are strongly opposed.
With such strong backing to make Illinois the next state to transform its marijuana policies, it’s no wonder that politicians are trying to outdo each another on the issue.
Pritzker, for example, held a press conference outside a medical cannabis dispensary earlier this year to detail his support for reform.
Our state should legalize marijuana. This is not a moment for a governor who stands with Donald Trump. pic.twitter.com/HTHObxJU5V
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) January 12, 2018
Kennedy has until recently opposed legalization.
Last year he said “it’s dangerous to embrace a public health hazard simply because you want revenue.”
He later shifted to saying that he is open to legalization, “but only after we have done a thorough and comprehensive review through the University of Illinois to ensure that public safety and public health are put before profit from marijuana industry.”
And now, he simply says, “Illinois should legalize marijuana.”
Another candidate, State Sen. Daniel Biss, also supports legalization. His team has gone so far as to craft a campaign slogan mashing up his name and the word “cannabis.”
We need to legalize, not criminalize cannabis. It's time for us to radically reform our justice system so that it works for the rest of us. pic.twitter.com/99b7UO1pUC
— Daniel Biss (@DanielBiss) February 4, 2018
Several candidates in this year’s state attorney general race support legalization as well.
Illinois voters may get a chance to weigh in on marijuana more directly than by simply supporting candidates who are on board. Last week, the state Senate overwhelmingly voted to place a nonbinding cannabis legalization question on the November ballot.
Voters in Cook County — the state’s most populous county and the second largest in the U.S. — will already see a similar cannabis question on their March 20 primary election ballot alongside the names of Kennedy, Prizker, Biss and other contenders for party nominations.
If the Democratic-controlled House joins the Senate in approving the statewide referendum, it could prove to be a factor in whether or not incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner or a Democrat wins the November election. Many political observers believe that putting marijuana on the ballot helps drive turnout from core Democratic constituencies such as young people.
Rauner opposes legalization and said last month that he would veto any such bill that arrives on his desk.
Illinois isn’t the only place where the new politics of marijuana are emerging; gubernatorial candidates in several other states are campaigning on marijuana reform as well.
But Illinois is the state where candidates have so far gone the furthest to make cannabis a central issue in a party nominating contest, a scenario that is likely to play out elsewhere as additional primary election dates approach in the coming months.
GOP & Dems Team Up To Shield State Marijuana Laws From Jeff Sessions
The Justice Department should be blocked from enforcing federal marijuana prohibition in states that have enacted legalization, a bipartisan group of 59 lawmakers wrote in a new letter.
“We are concerned about the Department of Justice enforcing federal marijuana law in a way that blocks implementation of marijuana reform laws in those states that have passed such reforms,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Jared Polis (D-CO), wrote to top decisionmakers on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “The issue at hand is whether the federal government’s marijuana policy violates the principles of federalism and the Tenth Amendment. Consistent with those principles, we believe that states ought to retain jurisdiction over most criminal justice matters within their borders. This is how the Founders intended our system to function.”
The legislators want congressional leaders to insert a new provision into a funding bill covering the Justice Department’s 2019 budget that would prevent federal prosecutors, the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies from spending money to go after people who are in compliance with state marijuana laws.
The language the lawmakers want included in the funding bill reads:
“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used to prevent any of the several states from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of marijuana on non-Federal lands within their respective jurisdictions.”
Separately on Friday, a group of 62 House Republican and Democrats sent a letter requesting the extension of existing, more limited appropriations protections that shield state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department intervention.
The medical marijuana provision has been part of federal since 2014, and has been extended with bipartisan House and Senate votes several times.
The broader protections to shield all state marijuana laws, including those that allow recreational use, from federal interference came just nine flipped votes short of passage in 2015. The number of states with legalization has more than doubled since then, and lawmakers from places with new laws would be more likely to support it if another vote were held, but House leaders have since blocked floor consideration of cannabis-related measures.
“As I have promised my fellow Coloradans, I will continue to advocate for this simple amendment to be added to the federal budget – shielding Colorado from the Trump administration’s attacks on states that have legalized marijuana,” Polis said in a press release about the new letter. “It would be a temporary, but urgent and necessary fix, as I continue to push for passage of my Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would finally lift the federal prohibition on marijuana.”
In the letter, the lawmakers argue that letting states enact their own cannabis laws is in keeping with constitutional principles laid out by the Founders of the nation.
“Experiences of states that have legalized marijuana, as compared to the experiences of states that have not, constitute the very ‘laboratories’ of social and economic experiments that were described by Chief Justice Louis Brandeis when he wrote about the beauty of the Tenth Amendment,” they said. “Our constitutional framework has afforded the whole nation the chance to allow states to differ on many matters of public policy, including marijuana.”
Stop Jeff Sessions From Busting Medical Marijuana, Bipartisan Lawmakers Demand
A bipartisan group of 62 members of Congress is asking House leaders to protect state medical marijuana policies and the patients and businesses that rely on them from federal enforcement agents and prosecutors.
“We respectfully request that you include language barring the Department of Justice from prosecuting those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws,” the lawmakers, led by Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), wrote in a letter sent to the top Republican and Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee on Friday. “We believe such a policy is not only consistent with the wishes of a bipartisan majority of the members of the House, but also with the wishes of the American people.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Medical Marijuana Ban A “Disgrace,” Congresswoman Tells Trump Veterans Chief
A congresswoman took a top Trump administration official to task over a policy that blocks military veterans from getting medical marijuana recommendations through the doctors that know them best, calling the federal government’s stance “a shame and disgrace.”
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs currently prohibits its physicians from filling out medical cannabis recommendations for veterans, even in states where it is legal.
“Coming from California, of course, you know we have a variety of dispensaries which make marijuana available to patients and veterans who use it for PTSD and chronic pain, and it works,” Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) told VA Sec. David Shulkin on Thursday.
“So what’s the problem?” she asked. “What’s the federal statute that blocks the VA from doing this, and not letting physicians simply recommend cannabis to veterans who need it? And it’s proven that it works.”
In a series of public remarks over the course of the past year, Shulkin has repeatedly claimed that overarching federal law blocks VA from recommending or even participating in research on medical marijuana.
But advocates have pointed out that there is no federal statute blocking the VA from changing its own internal policies on medical cannabis recommendations.
During the exchange, Shulkin seemed to be unaware of the distinction between prescribing medical marijuana, which no doctor can do due to its Schedule I status, and simply recommending it, which is how patients get access in the 29 states that allow its legal use.
“Filling out a questionnaire, isn’t that the step towards prescribing?” the secretary asked during the exchange with Lee, which took place at a hearing of the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies. “My understanding is federal law would not allow the physician to write the prescription, so I have to understand what the questionnaire would be in order to make a recommendation but not write a prescription.”
“Could we show you that questionnaire, Mr. Secretary?” Lee asked. “Because veterans need this, it works, and it’s a shame and disgrace that the VA is preventing this type of treatment that works.”
“Absolutely,” Shulkin replied. “I’d be glad to review that.”
Marijuana Moment supporters on Patreon can view video of the exchange below:
Shulkin has the unilateral authority to rescind the internal ban and clear the way for VA doctors to recommend medical cannabis to veterans in states where it is legal, but he has repeatedly claimed that federal law — without citing a particular statute — blocks him from doing so.
In recent weeks, a number of prominent veterans advocacy organizations like the American Legion and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have stepped up the push for access to medical cannabis.
Politics6 months ago
This Obscure 45-Year-Old Federal Law Exempts State-Legal Marijuana
Politics4 months ago
Trump Administration Considering Marijuana Policy Changes, Sessions Says
Politics5 months ago
These States Will Probably Vote On Marijuana In 2018
Politics5 months ago
Former Surgeon General: Legalize Marijuana; Decrim Not Good Enough
Culture3 months ago
Bill Nye: Marijuana’s Federal Status ‘Not Based In Science’
Politics6 months ago
FDA To Review Medical Claims About Marijuana
Politics5 months ago
Marijuana Is A Big Issue In Next Month’s Elections
Politics5 months ago
Sen. Cory Booker Is Tired Of Marijuana Stereotypes