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.
People With Marijuana Convictions Should Know About National Expungement Week
Marijuana legalization is a solid first step, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to resolve socioeconomic and racial inequities brought about by the war on drugs.
Hence, we now have National Expungement Week. The first-of-its-kind campaign, supported by a coalition of cannabis and social justice organizations called the Equity First Alliance, is taking place from October 20-27.
The organizations will offer “expungement and other forms of legal relief to some of the 77 million Americans with convictions on their records,” according to the campaign website. “These convictions can restrict access to housing, employment, education, public assistance, and voting rights long after sentences have been served.”
In an open letter, the alliance also said it was “largely unsupported by the cannabis industry and by the traditional funders of equity work.” While a main argument in support of legalization is that it would help to repair drug war damages, which have disproportionately affected communities of color, the laws and markets created by the successful movement haven’t necessarily lived up to its name, the alliance wrote.
To that end, the campaign has organized events across the country—from Los Angeles to Boston—to provide legal services to those whose criminal records are able to be reduced or expunged. You can check out the full list of events here.
The alliance’s agenda touches on numerous reform policies, including using marijuana tax revenue to fund communities that have been impacted by prohibition, implementing social equity programs, ensuring corporate responsibility for businesses that profit off cannabis and providing affordable medical cannabis for low-income patients, among other policies.
“We believe that we have a short but vital window of opportunity to change the course of the cannabis industry—and by doing so, we can prevent further harms to the most impacted communities and create a model of reparative economic and criminal justice.”
Adam Vine, co-founder of Cafe-Free Cannabis and an organizer with the campaign, told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is necessary “because millions of Americans have been harmed by the war on drugs and continue to face collateral consequences for convictions that may have happened years ago.”
“These consequences restrict people’s access to employment, housing, education, and social services, so our coalition decided to do something about it,” he said. “We are coordinating these events to provide free legal relief and to say that as states move towards cannabis legalization, expungement needs to be the first priority.”
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Chris Christie Finally Recognizes Marijuana Legalization As States’ Rights Issue
Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Then he pivoted, acknowledging that some will push back on his anti-legalization position by pointing out that alcohol is legal. “I get that,” he said, “but I wasn’t here when we legalized alcohol.”
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
Christie stood out among other Republican and Democratic contenders during his 2016 presidential run by maintaining that in addition to personally opposing legalization, he’d crack down on legal cannabis states and enforce federal laws nationwide if elected.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
— Melissa Etheridge (@metheridge) October 6, 2018
Christie, for his part, replied that he “enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans.”
And enjoyed every minute of a great performance and a truly wonderful group of fans https://t.co/TQdJ8fzkTM
— Governor Christie (@GovChristie) October 6, 2018
Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore.
Marijuana Support Grows: Two Out Of Three Americans Back Legalization, Gallup Says
Two-thirds of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, the highest percentage ever in Gallup’s ongoing decades-long series of national polls on the topic.
The new survey released on Monday shows that U.S. adults back ending cannabis prohibition by a supermajority margin of 66 percent to 32 percent. That’s more than a two-to-one ratio.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.