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Democrats And Republicans Are Getting Bipartisan On Cannabis, It's Just A Matter Of Time

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Democrats And Republicans Are Getting Bipartisan On Cannabis

It's Just A Matter Of Time

Cannabis Is Slicing Through Political Lines

Don’t look now, but you may be living in the most promising moment for cannabis in decades of American politics. Throughout U.S. history, combative and contentious political battles have been a more or less permanent aspect of our lives, and the lives of our friends and loved ones. But even amid one of the most polarized climates in recent memory, some issues are still managing to slice through traditional political lines, such as the incredibly promising amount of bipartisan support for cannabis legalization from Democrats and Republicans alike.

Your memory doesn’t have to stretch too far back to get some perspective on just how much the political landscape around cannabis has shifted, and how relatively quickly its happened. Since 2012, a full 11 states have embraced cannabis legalization, a feat that would’ve seemed like the longest of long shots just a decade ago. 

Specifically, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington are now legal states, with 19 more enacting some form of medicinal cannabis law. Some states, however, explicitly only allow non-psychoactive CBD for medicinal use, imposing strict limits on the allowable percentage of THC.

There’s no denying that the Democratic Party has been more institutionally supportive of legalization to date than the Republicans, who’ve historically been more hostile to the idea. This is reflected in the prevailing politics of the states where cannabis has been legalized; by and large, they’re states with fairly liberal voting populations, though Alaska stands out as a stark exception.

But, despite historical divides between liberals and conservatives on the issue, some recent polling is pointing towards what countless cannabis activists and advocates have been dreaming of for decades: a growing bipartisan consensus in favor of legalizing one of the world’s oldest and most therapeutic herbs.

More Americans Than Ever Are In Support Of Legalizing Cannabis

According to a survey conducted by the highly regarded Pew Research Center in late 2018, some 62 percent of Americans now support legalizing cannabis, a solid majority that would have seemed impossible a few decades ago. According to Pew’s data, 69 percent of registered Democrats support legalization, and while it still hasn’t quite reached majority support among registered Republicans, it’s very close, with 45 percent voicing approval.

These numbers are simply staggering in a historical context. In 1990, Pew found that 81 percent of Americans opposed legalizing cannabis, and that’s a scale of majority opinion that’s pretty rare in modern U.S. politics.

The cross-ideological appeal of cannabis becomes even more clear when you factor in independents who lean Republican. Pew found that 59 percent of Republican-leaning independents broke in favor of legalization, which is not necessarily surprising; Libertarians typically identify more closely with conservatism than liberalism, and an end to America’s “war on drugs” has long been a Libertarian goal. The survey also found that legalization enjoys support from people of all levels of educational achievement, whether you’ve got a postgraduate degree (63 percent support) or stopped your schooling following high school (53 percent support).

A bipartisan cross-section of high-profile political leaders have spoken out in support of ending the federal ban, too, perhaps most prominently former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner. The former Ohio congressman spent his entire career in elected office officially opposed to legalization, but ultimately changed his mind after retiring from politics in 2015 and joining the board of a cannabis company

The cynical view, of course, could be that some politicos like Boehner are now opening up to the notion of legalization since (a) it’s clearly gaining momentum, and (b) there’s a lot of money to be made. But whatever the reasons for these leaders coming together around cannabis (although not literally, as Boehner has stated he doesn’t personally consume), the building of a bipartisan coalition should be music to the ears of anyone who considers nationwide legalization a top priority.

In July, the U.S. Congress held bipartisan hearings on removing cannabis from the federal government’s list of Schedule 1 drugs, a move which would effectively clear the way for any state in the country to implement a regulatory structure and move forward with legal use. To say this would be a massive leap forward in cannabis law would be an understatement. But even shy of nationwide legalization, some GOP legislators are signaling much more openness to reform than they did in the 1990’s, or even in the early-aughts. 

Republican representative Matt Gaetz, an extremely conservative legislator from Florida’s deep-red 1st congressional district, is a prime example. Gaetz has specifically backed the States Act, which would protect cannabis businesses from federal interference provided they operate under the legal regulatory statutes of their states. 

As if to hammer home just how much this issue is blowing apart traditional political lines, the list of congresspeople supporting this bill ranges from Gaetz on the right, to Democratic senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, one of the most liberal members of her party, on the left. 

The DEA’s enforcement of cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug, which began with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in 1970, has led to literally millions of arrests and imprisonments for simple consumption, and it’s been even worse for African-Americans, who are arrested and prosecuted for cannabis use at roughly three times the rate white users are. Racial inequities in the prosecution of drug offenses has long been a hot-button political issue, including the question of expunging the records of people previously convicted on cannabis-related charges.

In short, the political climate has perhaps never been more ripe for bipartisan action on cannabis, at least not since the Controlled Substances Act came into effect in 1970. And there’s good reason to think positive developments could be on the horizon. 

Of course, for those people living in states where cannabis is still outlawed, that bipartisan consensus can’t come fast enough. Despite a long history as a healing herb used by cultures dating back centuries, bolstered by promising scientific research into its various medicinal effects, there are still 17 states which do not even have medicinal cannabis laws on the books.

Written by Nice Guys Staff