The results from Tuesday’s congressional and gubernatorial primary elections are in, and while the candidates campaigned on wide-ranging platforms, some of the results could mean a lot for state and federal marijuana reform.
Marijuana Moment put together a recap, examining where several of the primary winners stand on cannabis. While a number of other House primary elections took place throughout the country, the list below includes races where marijuana issues were relatively prominent.
Indiana U.S. Senate Primary
Republican winner: Mike Braun
During a debate last month, Braun said: “I think if a state wants to go to medical marijuana, it ought to be their prerogative.” But he also said that he was still “out on the issue” when it comes to his personal support for medical cannabis. It’s not clear based on that statement whether the businessman meant that he was undecided or opposed to reform, but he went on to say that “states are a great laboratory,” indicating that if elected to the Senate he would support efforts to scale back federal prohibition, at least when it comes to medical use.
“It’s happening right in front of us,” Braun said during the debate. “We’ll see what happens.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Braun’s campaign office for clarification. This story will be updated if a response is received.
Of note is that Braun beat out two Republican challengers who have voiced steadfast opposition to marijuana legalization and have consistently voted against reform amendments as U.S. House members.
Democratic incumbent: Sen. Joe Donnelly
The incumbent senator earned a “D” rating from the pro-legalization group NORML due to his consistent failure to support federal legislation to reform marijuana laws. In 2007, during his time in the House, he voted against a measure to prevent federal interference in states where marijuana is legal. According to Civilized, Donnelly has said that it would not be “prudent” to legalize or decriminalize cannabis.
Ohio Gubernatorial Primary
Democratic winner: Richard Cordray
Cordray, the former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, has been sheepish about his personal stance on marijuana legalization. However, he’s been critical of Ohio’s medical marijuana program, which he feels was poorly implemented.
In a statement sent to Marijuana Moment last week, a spokesperson for Cordray said that he’d “fix the botched implementation” of the program” if elected and would also respect “voters’ right to propose a new [recreational marijuana legalization] referendum” and “follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.” The spokesperson declined to comment on Cordray’s personal feelings about recreational legalization.
Republican winner: Mike DeWine
While DeWine, Ohio’s attorney general, has been relatively quiet about his stance on medical marijuana, he did say in 2014 that he thinks legalizing the plant for recreational purposes would be “a mistake.”
At a press conference with law enforcement, he acknowledged that legalization could take the substance off the black market and lead to fewer deaths from gang violence. That said, he still felt legalization would send a bad message to youth, saying that experts informed him that cannabis was a gateway drug to heroin “in some cases” and expressing concern that full legalization would mean “more people killed by someone who is high on marijuana” on highways. He’s also rejected several petitions to change that state constitution with respect to cannabis reform—though he’s attributed those rejection decisions to issues with the language of the petitions, not the underlying policy issue.
Ohio U.S. Senate Primary
Republican winner: U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci
The U.S. congressman hasn’t said much about marijuana, and he also hasn’t supported federal legislation to reform the country’s cannabis laws—including measures to protect legal states from federal interference, provide marijuana businesses with banking access, or allow Department of Veterans Affairs doctors to recommend cannabis to patients.
In a recent interview with the Dayton Daily News, he did provide some insights into his perspective on the issue. Renacci said that he was “closely watching” Ohio’s medical marijuana program and voiced clear opposition to recreational marijuana legalization.
Democratic incumbent: U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown
Like many career politicians on Capitol Hill, Brown’s position on cannabis has evolved over the years. But that hasn’t necessarily been reflected in terms of introducing or co-sponsoring reform legislation.
Earlier, this year, when U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the Cole memo—which offered some protections against federal intervention in states where marijuana had been legalized—he spoke out, arguing that the Sessions should “mind the store on other things” and “put his efforts into this terrible addiction issue about opioids and worry less about medical marijuana.” However, Brown has also peddled the debunked gateway drug theory that marijuana leads users to harder drugs, and he’s said that he felt concerned that legalization would increase youth consumption. Brown is on the record defending the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, stating that “the evidence is in that [marijuana] works for a number of patients.”
West Virginia U.S. Senate Primary
Republican winner: Patrick Morrisey
The West Virginia attorney general has said that it was important to be “open-minded” about medical marijuana legalization because it “may provide some relief to those who truly may be in need and hurting.” However, Morrisey was clear during a debate hosted by local television station WSAZ last month that he was “opposed to it for recreational use.”
Morrisey said that recreational marijuana was “another gateway into this terrible drug problem.”
Democratic winner: U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin
Though Manchin has faced criticism over his opposition to the legalization of cannabis—most recently during an April 5 town hall event where the senator was booed for suggesting that the substance was a gateway drug—he did reportedly cast a voice vote in support of a spending amendment that prevents federal intervention in state medical cannabis laws.
According to NORML, Manchin also said that he “would lean more to listen to the doctors, the professionals who are responsible for our health,” with respect to marijuana reform.
West Virginia U.S. House Primary (District 3)
Democratic winner: Richard Ojeda
The state senator and former Army veteran is decidedly pro-legalization. He sponsored a bill to legalize medical marijuana in West Virginia last year, which was signed into law by the governor on April 19, 2017. A statement on Ojeda’s campaign site makes his stance clear:
“Through comprehensive cannabis legislation, encompassing decriminalization, medical, and industrial use, we can utilize one of the most medically beneficial and economically viable plants on Earth to fight the opioid epidemic, generate revenue to fund new education and infrastructure initiatives, and address the problem of overpopulation within our state correctional facilities,” it states. “With a comprehensive approach to cannabis policy, we can put West Virginia on a path to a prosperous future and grow a new economy that will benefit the people of our state for generations to come.”
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Voters In Key Congressional Districts Support Marijuana Legalization, Poll Says
With many key congressional races rated as “toss ups” by political observers, either major party could end up controlling of the U.S. House of Representatives after this November’s midterm elections.
A new poll identifies one thing that can help Republican or Democratic candidates come out ahead: Embracing marijuana legalization.
The polling firm Lake Research Partners surveyed 800 likely 2018 general election voters in 60 so-called “battleground districts,” finding that 60 percent support ending cannabis prohibition. Only 36 percent are opposed.
Medical marijuana is even more popular, with 79 percent of voters in these swing districts on board.
More to the point for politicians looking to win elections, the survey showed that 44 percent of battleground voters say they would be more more likely to vote for a candidate who supports legalization, including 26 percent who say they would be “much” more likely. Only 33 percent said they would be less likely to back a pro-legalization candidate.
The survey was conducted in February but is being released on Tuesday at Washington, D.C. event sponsored by MedMen Enterprises, a cannabis dispensary chain that commissioned the poll.
Another key finding is that 55 percent of voters say they would be “more likely” to vote if a marijuana initiative was on the ballot in their state.
The survey also tested the effectiveness of various arguments concerning legalization, determining that “the strongest pro-legalization message frame highlights how we need legalization to repair the financial and moral damage of the failed war on drugs,” according to a polling memo prepared by the firm.
Several other recent national polls have found majority support for marijuana legalization, but the new results narrowed down to key swing districts are likely to warrant special attention from candidates and political operatives.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Congressional Committee Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)
Lawmakers on a key congressional committee once again blocked colleagues in the full House from being able to vote on marijuana-related amendments.
One proposed measure, filed last week, would have allowed Washington, D.C. to legally tax and regulate retail marijuana sales and another would have prevented federal regulators from penalizing federal banks from working with businesses and individuals in the legal cannabis industry.
But on Monday evening, the Republican-controlled Rules Committee, led by Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX), continued its recent tradition of preventing floor votes on any and all measures to scale back federal cannabis prohibition.
“Everyone who knows that Congress has a responsibility to at least debate these issues should unite and help Pete Sessions find another line of work,” Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who cosponsored both cannabis measures, told Marijuana Moment in a statement.
Sessions’s Texas district, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016, is currently considered a “toss up” by political analysts in this November’s midterm elections.
Before Monday, his panel had blocked at least 34 other cannabis-related amendments from reaching the floor for votes during the current Congress. The full House of Representatives has not been allowed to consider marijuana reform proposals since the spring of 2016.
Bipartisan groups of lawmakers cosponsored both new cannabis measures, which they were seeking to attach to legislation to fund parts of the federal government through Fiscal Year 2019.
(A third marijuana-related measure considered on Monday proposes shifting money away from forest and rangeland research toward “eradicating, enforcing, and remediating illegal marijuana grow operations on National Forest System land.” That measure was cleared for a floor vote, likely sometime this week.)
“Our federal laws are outdated. The people in this country want the law to treat marijuana as we do alcohol,” Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA), said in testimony about his marijuana banking amendment. “These large sums of cash make dispensaries an obvious target for robberies.”
He recounted the story of Travis Mason, a 24-year-old Marine veteran who was killed during a 2016 robbery at a Colorado marijuana dispensary where he was serving as a security guard.
“He managed to survive his service in the United States Marine Corps, but he didn’t survive his job guarding a store here at home,” Heck said.
“If we do nothing, this is bound to happen again.”
— Denny Heck (@RepDennyHeck) July 14, 2018
The D.C. measure was filed by Democratic Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District of Columbia.
“This rider has unintentionally benefited violent drug gangs,” Norton said of current policy in her testimony before the Rules Committee. “For that reason, some refer to it as the ‘Drug Dealer Protection Act.’ As one marijuana dealer told the Washington Post, the rider is ‘a license for me to print money.’ Regulating marijuana like alcohol would allow D.C., instead of drug dealers, to control production, distribution, sales and revenues.”
Under a ballot measure approved by D.C. voters in 2014, low-level marijuana possession and home cultivation is legal. But because of an ongoing federal appropriations rider enacted in past years and included in the new FY19 bill, local officials have been prevented from adding a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales.
Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO), a member of the Rules Committee, specifically moved during the meeting Monday night to make the amendment on cannabis businesses’ access to banks in order for a floor vote, but that was defeated by a party-line vote of 8 – 2.
Last night the Rules Committee blocked an amendment I cosponsored w/ @RepDennyHeck to protect financial institutions working with legal cannabis businesses. @RepJaredPolis asked for a roll call vote and EVERY Republican present voted no. What are they afraid of? Let us vote! pic.twitter.com/YDmnousHki
— Dina Titus (@repdinatitus) July 17, 2018
The marijuana banking measure had 22 cosponsors, more than any of the 276 other measures the Rules Committee considered this week. Eighty-seven amendments were cleared for floor consideration.
Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment
One of the U.S. Senate’s foremost champions for marijuana law reform says he is “disappointed” that fellow Democrats recently joined with Republicans in blocking his amendment to increase cannabis businesses’ access to banks.
Last month, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) offered a measure that would have shielded banks that open accounts for state-legal marijuana businesses from being punished by federal regulators for that activity even though cannabis remains illegal under federal law.
While the Senate Appropriations Committee had approved two similar amendments in previous years, the panel this time voted to table the measure with a bipartisan vote of 21 – 10, with ranking member Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and other Democrats who normally support marijuana reform objecting on procedural grounds.
“I was disappointed,” Merkley said in an interview with BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith on Monday. “We had passed this twice before.”
“We need to establish banking for cannabis because a cash economy is an invitation to money laundering and theft and cheating your employees and cheating on your taxes [and] organized crime. All bad.”
“I accompanied the owner of a company who had $70,000 in his backpack to pay quarterly taxes,” Merkley recounted in response to the cannabis banking question on Monday, which was suggested to BuzzFeed by Marijuana Moment’s editor. “It’s so bizarre going down the freeway and talking about how they have to pay their employees in cash, have to pay their suppliers in cash. It’s a bad system.”
“Everyone should agree: States’ rights on this. Let the states have an electronic system to track what these businesses are doing, not billions of dollars floating around like this.”
— Ben Smith (@BuzzFeedBen) July 16, 2018
Despite his disappointment with the measure being blocked, the Oregon Democrat, who is believed to be considering a 2020 presidential run, said that his colleagues “had a fair point to make on the policy front” in tabling the measure.
At the time, Leahy argued that spending bills such as the one before the committee should be kept “free of new controversial policy riders” and that a more appropriate forum would be an authorizing committee that sets banking laws.
“It wasn’t existing policy and therefore it was new policy,” Merkley acknowledged in the new interview.
But he pointed out that there are few other avenues available for senators to pursue the issue.
“Here’s the thing. Normally we could take these policy bills like I was putting forward [and] you could put it on the floor of the Senate as an amendment to something,” he said. “In 2017, outside of the budget process, not a single amendment was considered on the floor of the Senate… This is the end of the Senate really as a deliberative body on policy. So if you’re blocked in the Appropriations Committee, and you’re blocked on the floor, then it’s very hard to put ideas out there and say, ‘Hey vote on this. This matters.'”
The House Appropriations Committee also defeated a cannabis banking amendment last month.
See the video of Merkley’s remarks at about 19:15 into the clip below:
— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) July 16, 2018
Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.