WASHINGTON, D.C. 22 May, 2015 — Pot seems to be the one issue that can unite Republicans and Democrats in 2015. Sweeping bipartisan legislation has been introduced in recent months; it may even pass. Why the sudden awakening – did our political overlords suddenly grow a conscience, or is there a more cynical explanation?
The scramble to co-sponsor legislation comes as no surprise to seasoned advocates. Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, noted in a recent press release, “Reforming our nation’s failed drug policies is one of the few issues Democrats and Republicans can agree on. The tide is quickly turning against marijuana prohibition and the war on drugs in general.”
Within the turning tide, one statistic stands out: 63% of Republican Millennials favor marijuana legalization. Millenials now outnumber Generation X-ers in the workforce and will have a potentially game-changing impact on the 2016 election. Policymakers on both sides of the aisle have noticed.
The Millennial Effect
The “Millenial Effect” showed up in 2014. In the wake of the election, exit polls revealed that states with cannabis-related initiatives on the ballot saw a 5-12 percent increase in voting within the 18-29 year-old demographic. Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that the ballot measures appeared to produce a greater turnout among younger voters. “If a candidate takes a position against marijuana policy reform, or if they choose to ignore it, they shouldn’t be surprised when those younger voters choose not to vote for them,” Tvert said.
Colorado Democratic consultant Jill Hanauer predicted that any candidate who rejects legalization in 2016 will do so at their peril because “…millennials will be such huge segment of the voting public in 2016.”
Medical Marijuana – a No-Brainer
Over the past two years, Republicans have come out in support of medical marijuana legislation in numbers never seen before. Compassionate access has united sensible Americans of all persuasions. With support for reform rising to almost 90% in most nationwide polls, politicians who ignore pleas from desperate parents of epileptic children, cancer patients and veterans, are likely to find themselves in the political wilderness in 2016.
Half of the nation has already legalized medical marijuana in some form or another. Federal reform could soon end all prohibitions on medical cannabis by rescheduling the drug. Under the present schedule (below) all types of cannabis, including industrial hemp, are treated as dangerous narcotics without medical uses.
At a federal level several bills under consideration in 2015 include provisions for rescheduling marijuana.
Voters Want to Exercise State Rights
With public opinion shifting and the federal government signaling a hands-off approach to state marijuana policies, state lawmakers have had a busy year, with both parties rushing to get legislation considered. Most of it has been bipartisan and, with a few exceptions, new laws have advanced states toward decriminalization and legalization. Public support for these measures has been high and voters have turned out to reward politicians taking action.
In Texas, tea-party stalwart Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview) introduced legislation even more sweeping than Colorado’s. House Bill 2165, which would have eliminated all penalties for marijuana and fully legalized the plant, was backed by possibly the most diverse coalition ever to demand reform. Supporters held prayer vigils, asking divine intervention to smooth the bill’s passage. A miracle almost happened: House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee members agreed to support the “Christian case” as Simpson describes it, and voted 5-2 to advance House Bill 2165.
Simpson’s bill died when it was not scheduled for a full vote, but it was was one of eleven mostly bipartisan bills being kicked around the Teas state legislature this session.
Similar efforts in numerous other states have resulted in a flood of legislation. Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority points out, “We now have legalization in four states and the nation’s capital, plus medical marijuana in almost half of the country. There’s much more to come in 2016.”
The burgeoning cannabis industry is delivering rewards to states that have regulated marijuana like liquor. Jobs are being created and state tax coffers are getting a boost. As the industry moves into legitimacy, large investors have entered and, for the first time, PACs will fund cannabis industry lobbyists and ballot initiatives in 2016. Naturally candidates want to share the wealth – cannabis is no longer an issue that would only attract cash from Democrat donors.
Bipartisan Federal Legislation
Federal lawmakers are presently considering a raft of bills, including the most sweeping reform ever to be introduced, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act and its companion bill H.R. 1538.
Republicans and Democrats banded together to introduce these bills, which would allow states to legalize medical marijuana and determine their own regulations without fear of federal prosecution. Crucially, the CARERS Act would permit banking services to cannabis dispensaries, and reschedule marijuana from Category I of the Controlled Substances Act to Category II. The recognition that cannabis can have medical uses would clear the way for extensive scientific research.
Jill Hanauer says opponents of legalization risk losing “a huge segment of the voting public for good if they try to stop what’s happening in American culture,” adding, “…if I were a Democratic candidate in a primary or general, I would embrace this issue, as this is something that’s important to respect – the will of the voters.”
Republicans appear to agree. When they converged on D.C. in February for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference – CPAC, speakers were met with a barrage of questions on marijuana policy. It’s a hot topic, in part because GOP candidates, normally lock-step on most issues, can distinguish themselves via their position on pot.