When it comes to marijuana legalization and the range of opinions on how it should be handled on the federal level, the future is unclear. Support for the legalization of recreational marijuana use has been steadily increasing for decades. By 2019, polls clocked support for adult-use cannabis at 67%. That support varies by group, with the younger a person is and the further left they lean politically being key indicators that the individual is likely to support recreational use. Majorities of Millennials, generation X, and Baby Boomers all favor legislation that would make marijuana legal. About 68% of Democrats think both recreational and medicinal use of the product should be off the cops’ radar, compared to 49% of Republicans. Those statistics are all top-of-mind for anyone playing politics. In the Senate races in particular, each candidate’s position on recreational marijuana can be a key factor for voters to clue in on.
As for those loudly against legalization, three Republican Senators pose a big hurdle for any legislation to pass at the federal level. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel of Kentucky want nothing to do with cannabis, and are working to ensure as few Americans as possible have access to it.
Senator Mike Crapo (R-ID)
Senator Mike Crapo has been extremely successful in his attempts to stifle access to cannabis. In Idaho, no marijuana whatsoever is legal; not recreational, not medical, not even CBD. More than three quarters of Idahoans support legalization of medical marijuana, though they still oppose recreational use. Either way, their opinions don’t seem to be taken into consideration. Last year, Crapo told Wikileaf that he believes legislators should end the hurdles that have made cannabis a "cash only" business.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
Senator Lindsey Graham is Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Department of Justice oversees the Controlled Substances Act, so most marijuana legislation would have to cross Graham’s office before making it to the full Senate for a vote. Though Graham showed support for re-scheduling of the drug in the 2015 CARERS Act, he seems to have hardened up since then.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
As for Mitch McConnell, he has said loudly and clearly that he will not consider descheduling cannabis, earning himself a D- rating from On the Issues. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky says about 90% of Kentuckians favor legalizing medicinal marijuana, and nearly six out of ten voters believe recreational use should also be legal. About 40% of Kentucky respondents said they regularly use marijuana. Those numbers have been steadily rising for years – in 2014, only 52% of Kentucky voters thought medical marijuana should be legal. McConnell has instead voted for progress in hemp production and access, since his state has many hemp growers. He signed the Industrial Hemp Farming Act, which ensures hemp is not classified in the same bracket as marijuana, despite the fact that it comes from the cannabis sativa plant. Even still, a group called Vote-Hemp rated McConnel’s voting record a D.
Senators Cory Gardner and Rand Paul
In contrast, Republican Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Rand Paul (R-KY) have both regularly advocated for marijuana legislation, and even sponsored bills with that goal in mind. Though Paul and McConnell both represent Kentucky, they have very different views on how marijuana should be policed in the state. Though Paul has found his niche in the Tea Party, he also has firm support from the National Cannabis Industry Association and meets with that group regularly to talk pot. For him, it comes down to states’ rights. The NCIA said in a statement, "Senator Paul has been a long-time supporter of cannabis policy reform, and is a cosponsor of the SAFE Banking Act. We are meeting to express our gratitude and to discuss ways in which we can move effective banking reform through the Senate this session, We’re also hoping he can convince his fellow Kentucky senator to lighten up on this issue and prioritize hearings on cannabis legislation." McConnell and Gardner have run into problems with each other before, too. Gardner promoted a bill that would bar the federal government from interfering with states’ laws regarding marijuana. In 2018, Gardner tried attaching that bill, the STATES Act, to a criminal justice reform bill. McConnell blocked him from doing so.
Though you might think Democratic Senators’ views on marijuana tend to align more closely than the Republicans’, there is still plenty of disagreement over the product, how it should be regulated, and to what degree. The following Democratic Senators support full legalization of marijuana at the country-wide level:
- de Blasio
- Kamala Harris
- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
- Bernie Sanders (D-VT)
- Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
- Cory Booker (D-NJ)
Buttigieg is the only one of that group who feels possession of any and all drugs should be decriminalized. These Senators think states should get to decide individually whether they’d like to legalize marijuana use, and in what capacity:
- Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Both of those categories have overlap with Democratic Senators who back the Marijuana Justice Act. Sponsored by Senator Cory Booker, the Act has several goals: it decriminalizes marijuana and removes it from the federal Controlled Substances Act; it takes away any criminal penalties for people who import, export, manufacture, distribute, or possess marijuana with intent to sell; and it aims to right the wrongs inflicted on certain groups (especially minorities) by the War on Drugs. It establishes something called the Community Reinvestment Fund, which provides funding for communities most affected by that war. Convictions for marijuana possession would be expunged. The bill also penalizes states that have disproportionate arrest or incarceration rates for marijuana offenses. Those supporters include:
You might notice Joe Biden is not on the list of those backing the Marijuana Justice Act, though his running mate is. Biden has made clear he does not favor legalization at the federal level, but rather decriminalization. Senator Kamala Harris’s views have changed drastically over the years, going from tough on crime to having marijuana reform as one of the key components in her platform in the Senate race. Meanwhile in the House, Congressional Representatives will vote on the MORE Act the week of September 21st. New York Rep. Jerry Nadler’s bill aims to decriminalize cannabis and remove it from the United States’ list of controlled substances. It also hopes to expunge low-level cannabis offenses and reinvest in “certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs.