GOP’s New Approach to Weeds: Federal Authorities Must “Get Out”

Stronger Republican involvement could accelerate a snowball effect on Capitol Hill, where Democrats are leading the charge on decriminalization but lack results. It could also reduce Democrats’ ability to use cannabis legalization to excite progressives and young voters as they approach midterm.

“When culture is more accepting of something, even the most resistant groups are drawn in,” said Dan Judy, vice president of North Star Opinion Research, which focuses on Republican politics. “I don’t want to directly confuse the legalization of marijuana with something like same-sex marriage, but I think there is a similar dynamic at play.”

Earlier this year, the GOP-dominated North Dakota House passed a marijuana legalization bill introduced by two Republican lawmakers – the first adult use legalization bill to pass. in a room dominated by Republicans. And Mace’s bill marks the first time a Republican has proposed federal legislation to decriminalize cannabis, clear some convictions, and tax cannabis and regulate the industry.

As Republicans jump into the weed group discussion, they bring in their principles, constituents, and special interest groups. When Mace introduced his bill on a frosty day in the House Triangle, she was surrounded on the podium not by the Drug Policy Alliance and the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform, but by groups of veterans, medical marijuana parents, cannabis industry lobbyists, and Koch. -supported Americans for prosperity.

Many of the GOP’s proposals include lower taxes and a less regulatory approach than Democrat-led bills, while often maintaining elements popular with most voters, like striking out non-violent cannabis convictions.

“I tried to be very thoughtful about what I put in the bill that would appeal to Democrats and Republicans,” Mace said in an interview Monday. “That’s why criminal justice reform is one of them. This is why the excise tax is low.

The motivations for bringing Republicans to the table are also changing.

Former cannabis advocates on Capitol Hill like Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) And Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) Have advocated primarily for their state legalization programs, but Mace is from Caroline of the South – a state without medical or recreational cannabis. program. She joins other GOP lawmakers pushing for federal policy to go beyond their own states – they include Representatives Matt Gaetz and Brian Mast from Florida, where only medical marijuana is legal, and Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky, who is libertarian. no medical program yet.

“Every two years you get a new generation of members from both parties, but certainly from the Republican Party, who don’t have to defend the war on drugs… and they don’t have to support it,” he said. cannabis advocate and Don Murphy, former Maryland State GOP delegate. “They are free to vote according to their conscience. “

However, deep divisions remain within the Republican Party. After Mace announced his bill, the South Carolina GOP was quick to condemn him – saying they were “unequivocally” against Mace’s bill. “Given that this will have widespread negative effects, due to increased crime, violence and mental health issues among children, I think it’s a safe bet that most Republicans will as well. against, “South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement.

Six in 10 young GOP voters – what Pew described as the “ambivalent right-wing” in a recent report – think marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational purposes, but older, educated Republicans and conservatives Christians don’t feel the same way.

The GOP split has come to a head over the past year in South Dakota. Fifty-four percent of voters approved a voting measure that legalized recreational marijuana last November in a state where only 27 percent of voters were registered Democrats. Despite voter support, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem – a rising Republican star – has backed a legal challenge that has blocked the legalization measure since its passage. But while the state waits for a court ruling, efforts to legalize marijuana at the polls and in the legislature are moving forward in the meantime.

“[Support] increases because people voted for it, ”said Republican South Dakota Rep. Hugh Bartels, who chaired the adult marijuana study subcommittee over the summer.

Marijuana advocates are now gearing up to put legalization initiatives on the 2022 poll in red states like Missouri, Idaho and Wyoming. More GOP voters supporting marijuana reform means lawmakers are increasingly out of step with their constituents – a fact some politicians understand.

“We’re in a race now,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) said in an interview the week after the 2020 election. “If Republicans beat Democrats over legalizing marijuana, they won’t are just one or two of these types of social problems nowhere near totally eroding a ton of “goodwill” that Democrats try to build with voters.

Republicans who support legalization see the issue through the lens of state rights, personal freedom, job creation and tax revenue. Many libertarian-leaning Republicans are early supporters of cannabis policy reform, arguing that arresting people for cannabis use is a violation of personal freedoms.

Some Republicans also cite racial disparities in marijuana arrests as a reason to correct federal law – although Democrats are focusing more heavily on criminal justice reform as a whole. And, as with Democrats, change is often generational: Young Republicans in Texas announced their support for the decriminalization of marijuana in 2015.

The change within the GOP is sometimes less about lawmakers’ own beliefs about marijuana and more about the extent of the public’s shift on the subject. The sponsors of the bill in North Dakota, for example, have said they are personally opposed to marijuana, but still introduced the bill to avoid the possibility of a vote initiative that would legalize it. marijuana through the constitution – especially after South Dakota voters approved legalization in 2020.

Bartels himself is “not a real fan of marijuana,” but a draft legalization proposal “is going to get a good, solid argument from me” in the next session of the House, he said. He is satisfied with the way the bill addresses his main concerns regarding public safety and use by young people. “This is a regulatory bill, not an industry-focused bill,” he said.

A lack of motivation to fight against the legalization of cannabis is also a major factor, said Judy. White, conservative evangelicals are one of the biggest groups against legalization, for example – but most of them don’t hand out pamphlets or go door to door campaigning against the voting measures.

“There is definitely a strong feeling in a lot of places that the train is leaving the station,” Judy said.

Marijuana reform is about to make gains in the Red States now that so many Blue States have already legalized it. Advocates are trying to place adult use legalization initiatives on the 2022 ballot in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. Wyoming, Idaho supporters collect signatures for medical marijuana and decriminalization after state lawmakers kick On the question.

And one big advantage stands out for Republicans when and where they decide to go ahead with legalization: They can tax and regulate the industry in their own way.

In Washington, although Republicans have made great strides recently, they do not control any house of Congress. Democrats will likely continue to focus on Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s decriminalization bill, which calls for a high tax rate and social equity subsidy programs that deter Conservatives.

But Republicans are one step closer to compromise with Democrats on the issue – if Democrats are prepared to negotiate. Executives such as Steve Hawkins, chairman of the US Cannabis Council, hope Mace’s bill will broaden the pool of support.

“It’s a problem where there isn’t a ton of partisan divisions,” Judy said. “Finding trouble with majority bipartisan support these days is like finding a unicorn. “


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