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It's Time for Congress to Acknowledge the Collapse of Pot Prohibition

Two-thirds of the states have now legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use.

JZSJZSYesterday's election results show that pot prohibition is continuing to crumble across the country. The number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana rose from nine to 10, and the number allowing medical use rose from 31 to 33. The former group now includes Michigan, the first state in the Midwest to allow recreational use, and the latter group now includes Missouri and Utah. Counting Oklahoma, where voters approved medical marijuana in June, three red states have taken that step this year.

These races were not close. Legalization won in Michigan by nearly 12 points, while the medical marijuana measures won by 14 points in Oklahoma, by more than six points in Utah, and by 31 points in Missouri.

The healthy margins are not surprising given the general popularity of these policies. According to the latest Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans think marijuana should be legal for recreational use. Support for medical marijuana is considerably higher: A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last April put it at 93 percent. "At this point," Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins noted last night, "medical marijuana may enjoy more public support—and more bipartisan support—than virtually any other policy issue still up for debate."

The only defeat for marijuana reform last night came in North Dakota, where voters just two years ago approved medical use by a whopping 28-point margin. They clearly were not ready to take the next step, although two-fifths of them said yes to a sweeping ballot initiative that aimed to legalize all peaceful marijuana-related activities (except for sales to minors) and create a system of automatic expungement for people convicted of such offenses.

Michigan is the third most populous jurisdiction (after California and Canada) to legalize recreational use so far:

JZSJZSNearly one-quarter of Americans currently live in a jurisdiction that has legalized recreational use.

This map from Governing magazine shows what marijuana policy looks like in the United States as of today:

GoverningGoverning

Of the 20 states where voters have the power to pass legislation by initiative, 16 have already legalized marijuana for medical or recreational use. The four that have not are Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Seven other initiative states have legalized medical but not recreational marijuana: Arizona (where a legalization intiative failed in 2016), Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota (where a legalization initiative failed yesterday), Ohio (where a legalization iniative failed in 2015), and Oklahoma.

While there is still considerable room for liberalizing marijuana policy by initiative, the focus increasingly will shift to legislatures in states such as New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New Mexico. So far Vermont is the only state that has legalized recreational use (but not commercial production and distribution) by that route.

At some point, Congress will have to officially recognize what's going on by reconciling federal law, which still prohibits marijuana in any form for any purpose, with state laws that tolerate medical or recreational use. The most straightforward approach I've seen is the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, a one-sentence bill sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) that makes the federal marijuana ban inapplicable to anyone acting in compliance with state law. I was on a drug policy panel with Rohrabacher last week at Reason's 50th anniversary celebration, and he seemed confident that President Trump, who has repeatedly said states should be free to set their own marijuana policies, is prepared to sign that bill or something similar.

The chances that such a bill will get through the House have improved since yesterday. "This was the first election in our lifetimes where the federal results were more important than the state results, from the perspective of marijuana policy nationally," Marijuana Policy Project co-founder Rob Kampia writes. "The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House was the most important outcome, because the House speaker, committee chairs, and subcommittee chairs will all be Democrats for the first time since 2010, with a majority of Democrats populating literally all House committees and subcommittees. While members of Congress in both major parties have become increasingly supportive of good marijuana legislation, approximately 90% of Democrats—and only 25% of Republicans—support such legislation generally."

Emblematic of this shift was the defeat of House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), an unreconstructed drug warrior whom Kampia calls "the sphincter who has constipated all marijuana bills and amendments in the House in recent years." Sessions was defeated by Democrat Colin Allred, a medical marijuana supporter who has criticized Sessions' anti-pot prejudices.

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    While members of Congress in both major parties have become increasingly supportive of good marijuana legislation, approximately 90% of Democrats—and only 25% of Republicans—support such legislation generally.

    Democrat politicians or voters? Because if it's voters, unless it becomes a top tier voter concern, it means nothing to congressional Democrats what the voters think about marijuana.

  • John||

    I seriously doubt many of that 90% will go and vote Republican if the Democrats don't come through for them on this issue. So, there is sadly no reason for Congressional Democrats to care.

  • Sometimes a Great Notion||

    Staying home is also an option for the voters. Abuse/Ignore your constituents at your own peril, see Hilary and the Rust Belt. 90% probably won't vote Republican but if 5% stay home how many elections could go the other way?

  • Lost in the Woods||

    But if the republicans take the lead, at least on medical marijuana which enjoys massive public support, then some moderate democrats or independents (if there is still such a thing) might reconsider their democrat party allegiance.

  • Hank Phillips||

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    What nonsense gibberish are you spouting now?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Sounds like some horseshit that some old dead slave owning white guys might have said, like, over 100 years ago or something. /sarc

  • John||

    It would be a wonderful thing if federal laws were repealed by enough states objecting to them. Sadly, that is no the case.

  • Rich||

    The number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana rose from nine to 10, and the number allowing medical use rose from 31 to 33.

    And the number of congresscreatures that have legalized recreational marijuana at the federal level remained at 0.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>The Democratic takeover of the U.S. House was the most important outcome

    Kampia is living on stereotype.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional.

    Even the Prohibitionists knew that they needed a Constitutional Amendment.

  • RPGuy16||

    What we really need is a challenge to Gonzales v. Raich, which was decided by the four liberals plus Kennedy and Scalia, who are both gone.

  • Dillinger||

    this ^. ridiculous ruling.

  • perlchpr||

    This was the argument I managed to convince my very Republican father with.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Um... grafting Alaska and Hawaii onto Mexico in that map kind've obfuscates that fact that These States and Dominions are sandwiched in between Mexico and Canada, where the Corn sugar, yeast and ethanol lobby lost their control over lawmakers. Soooo... now the Gee Oh Pee needs to declare Canada a fascist dictatorship and put up an East-German-style Antifaschistischer Schutzwall, and maybe mine some of the Great Lakes harbors to keep the Assassin of Youth from invading our godly shores and states. Felony beer didn't last long after Ontario decriminalized the Demon Rum.

  • Uncle Jay||

    It was time for Congress to acknowledge the collapse of pot prohibition a hundred years ago.
    But, hey.
    Better late than never, right Congress?

  • Longtobefree||

    How about all the states attorney general get together and sue good old Jeffy to make him take marijuana off schedule one, since it has proven medical use, and cannot legally be left o the list?
    How about that?

  • Cynical Asshole||

    Emblematic of this shift was the defeat of House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), an unreconstructed drug warrior whom Kampia calls "the sphincter who has constipated all marijuana bills and amendments in the House in recent years."

    A sphincter says what?

    Seriously though, what is it with politicians named Sessions being complete sphincters?

  • Lester224||

    States that legalize pot gain in tax revenue and reduce costs of prosecuting people caught with a blunt in their pocket.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Rockabilly||

    I'm a smoking

    some home grown

    will a pint of Ben & Jerry's #Resistance

    at my side.

  • What's the frequency, Kenneth?||

    This idea that Democratic party politicians are pot friendly is more or less bullshit. I do think many people who VOTE Democrat are, but the reality is that the politicians are more conservative on the issue than that are. The odd thing about that is that many conservative Republicans are quite agreeable to the reality that the drug war is a failure, at least with regard to pot. The lack of serious consequences to state "legalization" of pot seems to assure them that the world will not crumble if they bow to federalism, per their credo. This is libertarians' chance to lean on Republicans for so-called "states rights" and Democrats for supposed "liberal" policy. Both sets of politicians are somewhat hypocritical in this regard, but both can see the writing on the wall, and should jump at the opportunity to outdo each other, with pressure from their more reasonable constituency.

  • Robert||

    I don't see how the chances of this improved by the Democrats coming into the H.R., when 1 of them did so by defeating Rohrabacher.

    My question now is, what will be the "next marijuana" in terms of legality?

  • JesseAz||

    Can we also acknowledge potheads are life's failures and shouldn't be granted government welfare programs for deciding to stay home and be pot heads?

  • The Federal Farmer||

    There should be no one granted government welfare programs.

    But if we're going to have such programs, who are they for BUT people who have stumbled in life?

  • Here for the outrage||

    People whose limbs get blown off fighting for oil

  • Lester224||

    I know too many regular folks who smoke occasionally to agree with this.

  • Lester224||

    Guess it depends on your definition of "potheads". You could say the same about alcoholics. A lot of alcoholics actually function and pay taxes. There are a lot of functional "potheads" too.

  • Lost in the Woods||

    A Quinnipiac University poll conducted last April put it at 93 percent. "At this point," Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins noted last night, "medical marijuana may enjoy more public support—and more bipartisan support—than virtually any other policy issue still up for debate."

    If this is true, then it seems to be a great opportunity for the Republicans. They take the lead on legalizing medical marijuana nationally, positioning it as an issue of compassion, individual liberty, and government spending reduction (which it largely is). The Democrats will likely have to go along with it, since so much of their base simply loves pot. During the process, Republicans in the Senate extract concessions from Dems in the house (on whatever issue they choose), but still take full credit for medical marijuana legalization, increasing their support from independents in the process, and offending almost no one. And Dems have to explain to their base why this was a Republican led initiative.

  • Lester224||

    They won't do this. Too many law-and-order robots in GOP.

  • bocoran sgp||

    to sign that bill or something similar.

    prediksi sgp
    bola deposit pulsa

  • vek||

    Not long after Trump got elected, and he had said he didn't care about weed being legal... I said if he was smart, he would push the congress to throw it to the states. It would have been a VERY good move politically, because most people don't care... OR they are in favor of it... The few that would hate it will STILL vote Republican, because the Democrats are there worst nightmare in every other way.

    It would have been a great way to get ahead of the Democrats on a social issue that most people are fine with. Now the Dems may well vote it through in the house, and the senate may decide they MUST shoot it down out of spite... Making Rs look even worse. Perhaps if such a thing happens, Trump can tell the senate to pass the damn thing or he'll have their ass, and then it will at least look decent as a bi-partisan thing.

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