What Midterm Elections Could Mean for the Cannabis Industry

White house south lawn

In today’s midterm election, voters across the country will have the opportunity to embrace ballot initiatives and candidates that expand legal access to cannabis production and sales as the country faces increasing pressure to repeal over 80 years of federal marijuana prohibition. The latest Gallup polls showed that 66 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana, representing the third consecutive rise in support for legalization and also establishing a new record. Some polls even show that a majority of Republican voters now support marijuana legalization.

The most-watched elections for cannabis will be in Michigan and North Dakota where voters will decide whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana. If those election measures are approved, the two states will join nine others, plus Washington D.C., where recreational marijuana use and sales have already been legalized. If recreational cannabis is legalized in Michigan and North Dakota, over one out of five states will have completely turned their backs to federal marijuana prohibition.

Michigan VotingIn addition, Missouri and Utah will be voting to decide the future of medical marijuana access. In Missouri, there are three competing measures that will decide the future of medical marijuana; two will amend the constitution and another would simply change state law. Already, 30 states and the District of Columbia have set up a legal framework for accessing medical cannabis while an additional 16 states have enacted more limited medical cannabis laws for access to non-psychoactive CBD.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) endorsed four state ballot measures to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, including Missouri’s Amendment 2 that allows patients, with a physician’s medical order, to obtain cannabis and cannabis-infused products from facilities that have been licensed by the state.

NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri issued the following statement:

“This Election Day, the failed status quo of criminalization and incarceration is on the ballot against the sensible policies of regulation and legalization. Four states will be voting on legalizing adult or medical use of marijuana and, despite facing big monied misinformation campaigns from our opposition, Americans are more ready than ever to reject our failed prohibition on marijuana.”

In other states, voters will also have a chance to weigh in on marijuana issues by deciding on diverse measures such as the definition of hemp, tax rates on cannabis sales, and local decriminalization of possession. Further, by electing new lawmakers to office at the state and federal level, the public will have the power to set or change marijuana policies when going forward.

Here’s a look at how the election could impact the legal marijuana industry.

Increasing pressure at the federal level

With voters supporting marijuana legalization, an increasing number of Democratic candidates for office — including local, state, and federal — are making cannabis reform part of their pitch to voters. With Democratic candidates expected to make gains in the House of Representatives, that means that there will be increasing calls on Capitol Hill for marijuana reform.

According to Politico, progressive candidates in tight races for the Senate are using marijuana as a wedge issues to help tip the scales in their favor. Senator Bill Nelson, who is a conservative Democrat representing the state of Florida, aligned himself with the popular consensus by supporting medical marijuana — which has been opposed by Republicans and his opponent Governor Rick Scott.

“I think what it means is how far along this issue has evolved just over the last couple of years,” Ben Pollara, a Democratic strategist who has worked for Nelson told Politico. “It’s gotten to a point where somebody on the moderate-conservative end of the Democratic spectrum like Bill Nelson is not just coming out for medical marijuana but getting involved in a political fight and saying people ought to be able to smoke this stuff. It is no longer an issue with political downside; it’s an issue with almost entirely political upside.”

At the same time, even some Republicans are coming around to legal pot after their fears over legalization failed to materialize. For example, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) opposed recreational marijuana before it was passed into law, but now he has become one of the more vocal proponents for Colorado’s legal marijuana industry in Congress.

Cory Gardner was very vocal against Sessions

Through the Controlled Substances Act, the federal government prohibits the production, distribution, and possession of cannabis, and cannabis-based extracts. While a handful of lawmakers have made efforts to remove marijuana from the list of scheduled substances, the bills have lacked majority support from the rest of Congress as of yet.

This past summer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) introduced a bipartisan bill called The States Act that would legally end federal prohibition in the states that have passed their own recreational and medical marijuana laws. President Trump has even said he probably would support the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

Senator Elizabeth Warren giving a speech

Continued Changes at the State Level

Aside from the ballot measures, the races for state legislature will likely have an effect on legal pot industry at the state level.

There are currently 65 legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, compared to 31 for the Democrats, at the state level. However, Democrats are feeling confident on their chances going into the election, expecting to flip over 300 legislative seats. With more progressive lawmakers in the state congresses, there is a solid chance that we’ll be seeing more states following Vermont, which was the ninth state to legalize recreational marijuana but the first to do so through the state legislature.

Marijuana Moment analysis showed that at least 20 major party gubernatorial nominees this year support legalizing cannabis.

Criminal Justice Reform

The negative effects of cannabis prohibition enforcement land disproportionately on people of color, who use marijuana at the same rates as whites but are around four times more likely to be arrested their marijuana use or possession. Even with a growing number of states reforming their marijuana laws, the FBI Uniform Crime Report 2017 found over 650,000 individuals nationwide were charged for marijuana-related offenses in 2016.

In Ohio and Wisconsin, local voters will be deciding on bills that decriminalize and lower penalties for misdemeanor marijuana offenses in cities and jurisdictions such as Dayton, Garrettsville, Fremont, and others.

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