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.
Opposition Group’s Marijuana Poll Shows Strong Support for Legalization
A new survey of Michigan voters, funded by an organization opposed to the state’s marijuana legalization initiative, showed large support for reform and weaning support for prohibition.
The survey of 800 Michigan residents, which was conducted from May 1 to May 6, was orchestrated by Healthy and Productive Michigan.
Before being prompted with arguments for and against the initiative—which surpassed the required signatures to qualify for the state’s November ballot last month—respondents favored full cannabis legalization 48 percent to 42 percent, with 11 percent remaining undecided, according to the survey.
Arguments in favor of the proposed initiative, including increased tax revenue for public programs such as education funding and infrastructure, caused opposition to the initiative to drop to 36 percent. Support remained at 48 percent.
And then, even after the polling firm Victory Phones provided arguments opposing the initiative, support for legalization grew by one percent to 49 percent. Opposition ended up at 38 percent.
“Previous polls showing majority support didn’t pass the smell test. When polling, it is always important to review how the questions are asked and what size of audience responds,” Healthy and Productive Michigan’s President Scott Greenlee said in a press release. “Our poll pointed out arguments on both sides of the issue in a consistent and unbiased manner, and the fieldwork was conducted by the highly respected Victory Phones, who have a nearly 10 year track record of accurately measuring election results in Michigan.”
But the truth is that the prohibitionist organization’s poll showed that support for the legalization measure outweighs opposition, and that’s even more true after voters hear prohibitionist’s best arguments.
The share of voters who said they planned to vote against the measure dropped seven percentage points after they were read Healthy and Productive Michigan’s reasons for wanting to defeat it. Support rose one percentage point.
The proposed Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act would permit adults 21 and older to legally possess, grow and consume small amounts of marijuana. Specifically, adults would be allowed to grow up to 12 total cannabis plants in a single residence, and possess 2.5 ounces outside their homes and store 10 ounces at home.
Healthy and Productive Michigan did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
See the full poll below:
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Marijuana Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says
The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.
“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.
The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.
Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.
And he still feels the same way.
“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”
While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.
In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.
“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”
He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”
Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.
Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions
A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.
While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)