These days Americans are more divided than ever: republican vs democrat, conservative vs liberal, different views on healthcare and pandemic response, and numerous other economic and 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 conservative republicans don’t, and traditionally that’s been true. But ballot initiates in numerous different red states show that republicans and independent conservatives 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.
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“The prevailing wisdom has been that a conservative administration would be less receptive, but I think cannabis 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 lot of action in unexpected states. With cannabis use becoming increasingly prevalent around the world, especially following all the changes brought on by COVID-19, it seems that new legislation at the federal level is inevitable. There are quite a few republican states that already have very lax rules regarding cannabis, and some numerous swing states that have legalized it completely.
Currently, 16 states and Washington D.C. have fully legalized adult-use cannabis, 37 states have implemented some type of medical cannabis program, and 46 states have “decriminalized” cannabis to some extent. 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
Conservative states have been a bit slower to adapt to the changing times, however, there seems to be a major shift in viewpoints over the last few months with numerous cannabis-related bills being introduced in these areas. One of the most notable being Texas. Within the last month, the Texas senate approved several bills for cannabis decriminalization, as well as to expand the existing medical industry, lower the penalty on THC concentrates, and to force the study of psychedelics.
Last month, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee passed a limited medical cannabis bill that would raise the cutoff for THC in hemp products to 0.9%, three times higher than the federal limit. Also, a handful of new disorders would be added to the state’s list of qualifying medical conditions for cannabis use. Louisiana just passed House Bill 391 which will allow dispensaries to sell smokable flower products, while allowing patients to buy up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days.
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Last month, Governor Kay Ivey officially signed into law the medical marijuana bill that we’ve been tracking, making Alabama the 37th state in the U.S. to legalize medical cannabis; and there have also been notable changes in Wyoming, Idaho, Mississippi, and Kansas.
“The conservative states are empirical evidence that there’s enough demand and support at the grassroots level that the issue of cannabis 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.”
What’s up with Biden?
Although blue is known for being the “forward-thinking” party, with most democratic politicians showing some level of support for fair marijuana reform, our current president doesn’t have the best track-record when it comes to cannabis legislation and the subsequent social equity issues that come par for the course with drug prohibition. In the 1980s, Biden was actually very committed to the war on drugs, with a heavy focus on cannabis, helping draft numerous pieces of legislation that would keep low-level, non-violent drug offenders incarcerated for years to come.
As of 2010, his opinions hadn’t changed much and he can be quoted saying, “There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces [of marijuana] and legalizing. The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe [marijuana] is a gateway drug.” So far, that’s roughly 30 years of Biden against cannabis.
Fast forward another decade and Joe Biden is the 46th president of the United States, during a time when cannabis legalization is an incredibly polarizing topic on many fronts: economic, social, and health institutions all have a major stake in the industry. At the very least it seems Biden has accepted that cannabis legalization is inevitable, and even mentioned that he thinks “it is at the point where it has to be, basically, legalized.”
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However, he maintains his stance in favor of decriminalization over full legalization. But as we already know from watching the many states that have tried it already, decriminalization is a completely pointless step in between prohibition and legalization that allows for too much “interpretation” of the law.
In his latest move. In March of this year, at least five members of the Biden administration had their employment terminated, and dozen more were forced to “resign” for admitting to past marijuana use. This is move is right on the heels of an announcement made just one month prior, in February, in which the Biden Administration stated that past marijuana use would not disqualify someone from employment with the federal government.
Final Thoughts of Cannabis in Conservative States
Note that I’m a moderate, sometimes I align with conservative ideals and sometimes I lean liberal, so this is NOT 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 cannabis legalization, the overwhelming majority of Americans are tired of prohibition and ready for progress.
I can personally attest to this. Having been raised blue California where cannabis has been legal in some fashion since the 90s, and currently living in Indiana, one of the most cannabis-restrictive states in the nation – everyone I have met so far in both states support 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 supports.
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