These days Americans are more divided than ever: republican vs democrat, different views on healthcare and pandemic response, economic and other social issues prevail. There is one thing that nearly everyone seems to agree on though, cannabis legalization.
It’s a commonly held assumption that democrats favor cannabis (to an extent) and republicans don’t, and traditionally that’s been true. But ballot initiates in numerous different red states show that conservatives and republicans are coming around on legalization issues. It’s one of the few topics that seems to garner support across the board, regardless of which side of the political line you’re looking at.
“The prevailing wisdom has been that a conservative administration would be less receptive, but I think legalization is now inevitable on its own kinetic energy,” said Sturges Karban, chief executive officer of cannabis logistics company ManifestSeven. “While federal legalization was a political ‘third rail’ as recently as 2016, it now looks as though 2021 will be a turning point for the industry.”
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“People are just much less afraid of marijuana”
This year, we have a few red, and one purple swing state, that are considering legalizing cannabis, either for medical, recreational, or both. The reds voting on recreational are: Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota. Swing state New Jersey is also considering legalizing for adult use. In Mississippi and South Dakota, both known to be very conservative, medical cannabis legalization is on the ballot.
Currently, 46 states have “decriminalized” cannabis, 33 states have legalized medical cannabis, and 12 have recreational. A survey of 500 New Jersey voters, conducted by legal firm Branch Eichler LLC, found that a higher-than-expected number of republicans support adult-use cannabis – 75% of democrats and 52% of republicans.
“People are just much less afraid of marijuana than they used to be,” said John Fanburg, who co-chairs the cannabis practice at the New Jersey-based law firm that conducted the poll. He attributes that to the state’s “successful medical program, which has grown from 20,000 participants three years ago to 90,000, removing the stigma of marijuana for thousands of people on both sides of the political aisle.”
Red States Considering Cannabis
In red states like Arizona, the numbers are quite similar. According to a poll conducted by progressive data firm Data For Progress, 58 percent of all likely voters — 54 percent of whom identified as Republicans — believe that cannabis should be legalized for an adult-use market.
“Among political party lines, the poll found that 69 percent of Democrats, 41 percent of independents and 54 percent of Republicans agreed that the use and sale of cannabis should be legalized by the federal government. In comparison, 23 percent of Democrats, 29 percent of independents and 39 percent of Republicans disagreed,” the survey specified.
Overall, Arizona’s legalization measure is polling 56 percent in favor, says a survey conducted by Monmouth University. The only state where support is hovering at just under 50 percent is Montana, where 49 percent of voters support the initiative.
“The red states are empirical evidence that there’s enough demand and support at the grassroots that the issue is agnostic to party,” Karban said. “How do you ignore that if you’re in Washington? As bipartisan support for legalization grows in states across the country, there’s increased likelihood of change at the federal level, too.”
Delaying the MORE Act
The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, also known as the MORE Act, is a proposed piece of legislation that would “deschedule cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and enact various criminal and social justice reforms related to cannabis, including the expungement of prior convictions.”
The legislation has been called “historic” by both Democrat and Republican politicians, “reaching farther in the legislation process than any other such bill since prohibition” of cannabis in the 1930s, and marks “the first time in history a congressional committee has approved a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition”.
Despite having widespread, bipartisan support, a vote on the bill that was supposed to happen a few weeks ago was postponed when a few moderate Democratic lawmakers convinced House leadership this was the best decision. Their reasoning for this? The felt that passing this bill instead of another coronavirus relief package “looked bad” for them. Regardless of the fact that 62 percent of voters backed the bill, and roughly the same number of Americans support full legalization. In previous surveys, 60 percent of Republicans and 74 percent of Democrats agreed that the bill should be passed.
“The decision to push back a vote on the MORE Act not only calls Democrats’ prioritization of racial and criminal justice into question, but it also shows a complete disregard for the will of the majority of the American people who are ready for reform,” the Justice Collaborative said in a press release. “Failing to pass legislation decriminalizing marijuana use could be an electoral risk come November.”
Once again, I’m a moderate so this isn’t an attempt to push people towards a republican vote. On the contrary, this shows that even in a world meant to divide us, there are still some topics that have the power to bring people together. When it comes to marijuana legalization, the overwhelming majority of Americans are tired of prohibition and ready for progress.
I can personally attest to this. Living in blue California where cannabis has been legal in some fashion since the 90s, and being a frequent traveler to the Midwest – where I have family living in Indiana, one of the most cannabis-restrictive states in the nation – everyone supports legalization. Either they consume cannabis products themselves, or they just don’t care if other people do.
The attitude toward cannabis these days is much more laissez-faire, and rightfully so. At its worst, cannabis a harmless substance that induces a mild psychoactive high. At its best, we have a powerful, therapeutic plant that can be used to treat a myriad of different conditions, greatly improving ones quality of life. To legalize seems like the only logical option at this point, regardless of what political party one aligns with.
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