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Marijuana in the Midterms

With the 2018 election season getting into full swing, it’s clear that marijuana will play a crucial role in a number of electoral contests.

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Marijuana in the Midterms
Bill Oxford

Erik Altieri is the Executive Director of NORML. This feature was published in the June 2018 issue of High Times magazine. Subscribe right here.

Marijuana legalization is going to be a lead issue in the 2018 elections. Advocating for an end to our decades-long failed prohibition is not only good policy, but good politics. Regulating the adult use of marijuana is currently supported by a majority of Americans from all political persuasions, and any candidate for local, state or federal office would be wise to advocate for the will of the people and make ending prohibition a core plank in their election platform. Supporting sensible reform to our nation’s marijuana laws is not just overwhelmingly popular, it is the economic, scientific and moral thing to do.

With nine states having passed adult-use marijuana regulations, and 30 states authorizing medical-marijuana access, issues surrounding cannabis policy have taken center stage in local, state and federal elections. Over 90 percent of Americans support medical-marijuana access, and 60 percent support legalizing and regulating marijuana in a manner like alcohol.

If you look back at just the past year, it is clear that if we want the implementation of marijuana-reform laws to succeed, we need to begin voting out officials who are permanently afflicted with reefer madness and replace them with forward-thinking individuals who will fight for rational marijuana policies at all levels of government.

With a majority of states now engaging in activities that are in conflict with federal prohibition, it is absurd that House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) and Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Grassley (R-IA) refuse to even hold a hearing on this issue.

However, it is not just members of Congress who deserve our attention. With ongoing efforts to delay the rollout of legalization and regulation of marijuana in Maine and Massachusetts, mostly at the behest of those states’ governors, we need to push 2018 gubernatorial candidates to take proactive and positive stances on marijuana policy. If you look to New Jersey as an example, which recently saw the exit of anti-drug zealot Chris Christie and the election of pro-legalization Phil Murphy, you can see the positive impact of having a reform-friendly governor on the tenor of the debate. Already, the state is moving to expand and reinforce its long-suffering medical-marijuana program, and Murphy’s election catapulted the topic of full legalization to the top of this year’s legislative-priorities list.

There are a number of races this year that are worth watching from a marijuana-reform perspective. In Texas, the opportunity to replace Senator Ted Cruz with pro-legalization Beto O’Rourke would add a new, outspoken supporter to the US Senate. In California, there is an outside chance that Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, who long opposed our efforts despite the vast majority of her party now being in support of reform, could be ousted by current California Senate President Kevin de León, who has a far better record on cannabis issues. Also of incredible importance are the many gubernatorial elections being held, particularly in Maine, where the current governor (and ardent prohibitionist), Paul LePage, will be term-limited out of office. Governor LePage has spent every day since the 2016 election working to slow down or outright prevent the implementation of his state’s marijuana-legalization initiative. We need to ensure that whoever takes the position after him is progressive and aggressive in implementing legalization.

Even on the local level, these elections have a huge impact. In Easton, PA, an effort to decriminalize marijuana failed in the past month due to just one vote, and counties in states that have legalization are often empowered to “opt-out” of allowing retail marijuana outlets in their jurisdictions. Local politics, in many ways, matters just as much if not more than what is happening at the federal level, and reform supporters need to be just as diligent in lobbying their local officials and candidates as those at the top of the ballot.

With the clock ticking down to Election Day, get informed, be sure you are registered, and go out and “smoke the vote” this November.

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