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Where Ohio Gubernatorial Candidates Stand On Marijuana

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On Tuesday, Ohio voters will cast ballots in primary elections to select each party’s nominee for governor.

The candidates have been talking about marijuana reform on the campaign trail, and we’ve compiled a list detailing each major contender’s stance on the issue.

Democrats

Richard Cordray, former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Seen by some political observers as the favorite to win the Democratic primary nomination, Cordray has been evasive about his stance on marijuana reform since announcing his candidacy in December 2017. The establishment Democrat, endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), has only gone so far as to say that he would respect Ohio voters’ decision if they opted to legalize marijuana and vowed to improve Ohio’s existing medical marijuana program—but he’s declined to clarify his personal views on reform.

“As Governor, Rich Cordray will fix the botched implementation of Ohio’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have access to the medicine they need in a safe and affordable manner,” spokesperson Mike Gwin told Marijuana Moment. “He also thinks that the last marijuana ballot referendum failed partly because it was a flawed proposal. He supports voters’ right to propose a new referendum and will follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.”

Former Ohio Supreme Court justice Bill O’Neill, one of Cordray’s challengers, offered to drop out of the race if the candidate adopted his pro-legalization stance. But asked to comment on the challenger’s proposal in December, Cordray said simply, “I don’t have anything much to say about that today,” The Statehouse News Bureau reported.

Dennis Kucinich, former U.S. House representative

Though Cordray is considered the “conventional” favorite to win the Democratic primary nomination, Kucinich is his closest competition and still stands a “good chance” of winning, Cleveland.com reported. And when it comes to the issue of marijuana legalization, the former U.S. representative stands in stark contrast to his opponent. Kucinich has campaigned on a consistently pro-legalization agenda—and co-sponsored several bills during his tenure in Congress, ranging from the legalization of agricultural hemp to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.

In March, Kucinich announced that part of his agenda if elected governor would involve working to legalize recreational marijuana and hemp in the state, and allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis for personal use. He’s also argued that expanding access to cannabis would provide pain patients with an alternative to addictive and dangerous painkillers in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.

Bill O’Neill, former Ohio Supreme Court justice

Political analysts don’t consider O’Neill a particularly strong contender in the Democratic gubernatorial primary—due in no small part to his brazen social media posts about his past sexual escapades in the wake of misconduct allegations against former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D). His viability as a candidate has also been questioned given his lack of name recognition and campaign funding. That said, O’Neill has unequivocally championed marijuana reform throughout his candidacy.

His campaign website reads clearly: “Marijuana should be legal in Ohio. It has many non-addictive medicinal qualities; reduces the dependence on opioids and alcohol; and is a proven job, tax and income producer.”

Early into his run for governor, O’Neill said that he would bow out of the race if Cordray threw his hat into the ring, but he’s since said that he “wants Cordray to agree with him on marijuana legalization and reopening shuttered state mental hospitals to treat opioid addicts,” before he’s willing to exit the race. Cordray declined to comment on O’Neill’s proposal.

Joseph Schiavoni, Ohio senator

The former boxer and current state senator’s candidacy has been met with skepticism— but on at least one issue, he stands out in his adamant support for medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Ohio. He’s co-sponsored legislation in the state to provide access to cannabis for medical marijuana patients and, according to his campaign site, feels that recreational legalization “would provide needed funding to our state and allow police to focus resources on more pressing matters,” adding that any such laws would have to be passed “properly.”

“For example, we need to make sure the money this new industry generates is directed at something specific, such as Ohio’s education system. It should not just go to the state and disappear,” a statement on his campaign site reads.

Two other Democratic candidates, Paul Ray and Larry Ealy, qualified for the November ballot, but their stances on marijuana reform—among many other issues—are unknown. Ray, a candidate who is seemingly without a digital footprint and Ealy, a former exotic dancer who ran for Ohio governor in 2014, are not considered strong candidates by most conventional measures.

Republicans

Mike DeWine, Ohio attorney general

DeWine is the favorite to win Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial nomination—and he’s resistant to marijuana reform, to say the least. Just days ago, on April 20, the state’s attorney general rejected a petition that sought to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio, Cincinnati.com reported, though he explained that the move had to do with the measure’s language, not its subject matter. The attorney general also visited Colorado in October 2015 to assess how the state’s recreational marijuana system was playing out, but after witnessing the popularity of edibles in the state, he said he was “alarmed.”

Mary Taylor, Ohio lieutenant governor 

Though there are few public details about Taylor’s personal stance on medical marijuana legalization, we know at least two things: 1) she’s on the record opposing recreational legalization, and 2) she was vocal in a push to freeze approvals on marijuana grower applications in the state in December 2017 after it was discovered that a convicted drug dealer had been hired as a consultant to grade applicants.

These States Will Probably Vote On Marijuana In 2018

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Kyle Jaeger is an LA-based contributor to Marijuana Moment. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE, and attn.

Politics

Voters In Key Congressional Districts Support Marijuana Legalization, Poll Says

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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.

Support for Marijuana Legalization At Record High, New Survey Shows

Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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Politics

Congressional Committee Blocks Marijuana Votes (Again)

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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.

Analysis: GOP Congress Has Blocked Dozens Of Marijuana Amendments

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.”

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.

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.

Congress Could Vote On These Marijuana Amendments Next Week (Unless GOP Blocks Them Again)

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Business

Sen. Jeff Merkley “Disappointed” That Democrats Blocked His Marijuana Banking Amendment

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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.”

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:

Photo courtesy of Senate Democrats.

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