Missouri is proving to be one of the most consequential battlegrounds in Democrats’ fight to regain control of the U.S. Senate, with polls showing Democratic incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill and Republican state Attorney General Josh Hawley in a dead heat.
But when voters hit the polls in November, they won’t just be selecting a candidate. Three separate competing medical marijuana initiatives will also appear on the ballot, which begs the question: where do McCaskill and Hawley stand on the issue?
Neither candidate has made cannabis reform a central campaign platform, and neither has voiced support for adult-use legalization. Still, there are some key differences in how each candidate has approached marijuana.
For most of her career, McCaskill has opposed cannabis reform. As recently as 2015, the senator said she felt “torn” about the prospect of legalization, but that she was “looking into it.”
“I’m an old prosecutor, and the marijuana that’s out there today is a lot stronger than the marijuana that was running around when I was in college in the 70s,” she said. “We’ve got to learn how we do this and whether we can protect children.”
“I think we’re headed that direction, but there’s something in me that wants this to be very very cautious.”
This August, McCaskill said that medical cannabis should be approved in Missouri, though she declined to endorse a specific initiative. She told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that she was “a little uncomfortable” with the language of one of the ballot measures, however.
She’s also talked about the potential therapeutic benefits of cannabis for seniors.
“I don’t think there are enough seniors that realize that there are some therapeutic benefits to medical marijuana, marijuana that you consume opposed to smoke when you’re young and in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.”
But generally speaking, the senator has distanced herself from cannabis on the campaign trail. And that’s extended to legislation, too. McCaskill has a “C” grade from NORML, as she hasn’t signed her name onto a single piece of cannabis-related legislation as a cosponsor during her nearly 12 years as a U.S. senator.
But in an interview with Politico, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) predicted that McCaskill would become more vocal about cannabis as Election Day approached, noting that she stands to get a boost from the inclusion of marijuana initiatives on her state’s November ballot. Medical cannabis “just might be the margin of victory for Claire McCaskill,” he said.
“She will benefit from it being on the ballot. That just drives particularly young people to vote. But as we move closer to Election Day, I make a prediction that Claire becomes more and more comfortable and probably outspoken—especially when it comes to medical marijuana and veterans.”
So far, McCaskill hasn’t seriously seized on that opportunity.
Even less is known about Hawley’s views on marijuana. The state attorney general said last month that he was “inclined” to support one of the three medical cannabis legalization initiatives on the ballot, but he wanted to ensure that certain “guardrails” were in place to ensure that the program exclusively serves patients.
“I want to look closely at how the ballot language is structured,” he said.
That essentially sums up what’s publicly known about Hawley’s individual position on cannabis reform. However, during his time as Missouri attorney general, his office argued that a constitutional amendment that protects the rights of farmers to grow crops did not cover marijuana, as some individuals convicted on cultivation charges claimed.
“The plain language of the Amendment does not support [the] argument that voters passed the Amendment with the intent to repeal Missouri’s controlled-substances law and permit the unregulated cultivation, possession, and sale of marijuana,” Hawley’s office wrote.
Marijuana Moment reached out to the candidate’s campaign for more information about the candidate’s position on the issue, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.
If either candidate wants to widen the polling gap between them, it might serve their interests to take a stronger position in favor of cannabis reform. Fifty-four percent of Missouri voters believe that state constitution should be amended to “allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and create regulations and licensing procedures for marijuana and marijuana facilities,” according to a poll released last month.
Only 35 percent of voters said they opposed that notion.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
New York Legal Marijuana Push ‘Effectively Over’ For 2020, Governor Says
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) conceded on Saturday that it’s unlikely marijuana will be legalized in the state this year.
“Marijuana and the gig economy were two of the more complicated initiatives that we wanted to work through that we didn’t get a chance to do,” he said in response to a question about which policy issues he would’ve liked to tackle in the annual budget bill that passed this week.
“Is the session effectively over? It’s up to the legislature, but I think it’s fair to say it’s effectively over,” he added, noting that several state lawmakers have been infected with coronavirus.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congresswoman Wants Ban On DC Marijuana Sales Lifted Through Coronavirus Legislation
A congresswoman is calling on the government to end a policy prohibiting Washington, D.C. from legal marijuana sales, arguing that the jurisdiction is in particular need of tax revenue from cannabis commerce due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) has repeatedly condemned the congressional rider barring the District of Columbia from allowing retail sales that has been extended each year since 2014, shortly after local voters approved a ballot measure to legalize low-level possession and home cultivation. But given the need for resources to combat the pandemic, she said a reversal of the provision should be included in the next COVID-related relief bill.
“At this moment of unparalleled need, D.C. should be able to collect tax revenue from all available sources, like every other jurisdiction, including from recreational marijuana, which is believed to be widely used in the District,” the congresswoman said in a press release on Friday, adding that D.C. was shorted in the last stimulus because Congress treated it as a territory rather than a state.
“While I am working for a retroactive fix in the next coronavirus bill, it is imperative that Congress also repeal the D.C. recreational marijuana commercialization rider in the next bill to help D.C. shore up its finances,” she said. “It is beyond unreasonable that congressional interference keeps only the District from commercializing recreational marijuana, while all other jurisdictions are free to do so.”
— Eleanor Holmes Norton (@EleanorNorton) April 3, 2020
“Bringing the District in line with other jurisdictions would create a critical source of tax revenue in our time of need.”
Last year, the House approved an appropriations bill that excluded the D.C. rider, but it was included in the Senate version and ultimately made its way into the final package that the president signed. The cannabis commerce ban was also included in President Trump’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“True to form, Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton continues to be one of the best allies to the cannabis reform movement,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment. “During this unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, it is critical that lawmakers analyze and reform any and every aspect of public policy to mitigate the health crisis and build a foundation for a strong recovery.”
“As the majority of states that regulate cannabis have deemed the industry essential to the continued functioning of their jurisdictions, the continued congressional prohibition of the District of Columbia enacting it’s own adult-use program becomes even more ridiculous,” he added.
Norton, in an interview about her push, said that the congressionally mandated prohibition on sales doesn’t prevent people from accessing cannabis but does block the city from collecting tax revenue.
“You can buy two ounces but, by the way you’ve got to do that on the black market,” she told WUSA-TV. “But there’s nobody to tax it. And I’m simply trying to get the taxes the District is due for merchandise, in this case marijuana that’s being consumed readily in the District of Columbia.”
🟢🟢 LEGALIZING COMMERCIAL MARIJUANA IN D.C. 🟢🟢
I spoke to D.C.'s Delegate @EleanorNorton
She's pushing for fully legal commercial marijuana sales in the District in a 4th Congressional stimulus package.
The District needs the money.
And people are smoking weed anyway. pic.twitter.com/PL9yoDKlrj
— Adam Longo (@adamlongoTV) April 3, 2020
Legislative priorities for Congress have shifted significantly as lawmakers attempt to address the outbreak, and that’s meant putting some reform efforts on hold. However, the issue isn’t being ignored entirely, and it’s possible that other members may look to attach modest marijuana proposals to additional coronavirus legislation.
For example, Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) said this week that U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs policy preventing its doctors from recommending medical cannabis in legal states puts service members at risk in Massachusetts because the state is shuttering recreational shops (but not medical dispensaries) and some veterans fear registering as patients out of concern that they could lose federal benefits.
Eleven senators wrote a letter to Appropriations Committee leadership asking that they allow small cannabis businesses to access federal loans and disaster relief programs. While the lawmakers said it should be enacted through an annual spending bill, advocates have argued that the policy change should be pursued through coronavirus legislation since these businesses are facing challenges just like those experienced by many other companies during the pandemic.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
North Dakota Activists Say Marijuana Legalization Initiative Unlikely In 2020 Due To Coronavirus
North Dakota activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign put marijuana legalization on the November ballot due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a Facebook post, Legalize ND said “we are going to have to face a few hard realities going forward” as businesses are shuttering, public events are being cancelled and individuals are encouraged to shelter in place. The pandemic means in-person signature gathering can’t take place, and the state does not allow for alternative signing options such as by mail or online.
“Due to the virus all of our major avenues for signature collection have been cancelled or indefinitely postponed, and going door to door is not safe for both those knocking and those getting knocked,” the group said. “Businesses will continue to collect, but we don’t want to create another vector for the coronavirus. As a result, at this time if something major doesn’t change we will not be able to make the 2020 ballot.”
Legalize ND said there’s no way for state policies related to signature gathering to be changed ahead of the November election. They needed to collect 13,452 valid signatures from voters before July 6 in order to qualify. In all likelihood, the campaign said it would have to shift its focus to the July 2022 primary election.
“This isn’t the solution we want, but given the situation it is what will have to happen,” the post states. “Stay safe, and hopefully we can make a major push when the quarantine ends.”
The proposed initiative would allow individuals to purchase and possess up to two ounces of cannabis. Unlike a much more far-reaching measure the same group pushed in 2018 that included no possession or cultivation limits, which voters rejected, this version would prohibit home growing, impose a 10 percent excise tax and establish a regulatory body to approve licenses for marijuana businesses.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis initiative in 2016.
The coronavirus outbreak has dealt several blows to drug policy reform efforts in recent weeks.
Likewise in Washington, D.C., advocates for a measure to decriminalize psychedelics asked the mayor and local lawmakers to accept online signatures for their ballot petition.
In Oregon, advocates for a measure to decriminalize drug possession and a separate initiative to legalize psilocybin for therapeutic purposes have suspended in-person campaign events amid the pandemic.
In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently conceded that legalization was “not likely” going to happen through the budget, as he hoped. Coronavirus shifted legislative priorities, and comprehensive cannabis reform seems to have proved too complicated an issue in the short-term.
Idaho activists announced on Thursday that they are suspending their campaign, though they are still “focusing on distributing petitions through online download at IdahoCann.co and encouraging every volunteer who has downloaded a petition to get them turned in to their county clerk’s office by mail, regardless of how many signatures they have collected.”
Finally, in Arizona, a legalization campaign is petitioning the state Supreme Court to instruct the secretary of state to allow individuals to sign ballot petitions digitally using an existing electronic system that is reserved for individual individual candidates seeking public office.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.