Will the New Congress End Cannabis Prohibition in Early 2019?
The 116th U.S. Congress will officially begin meeting in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2019. Control of both the House and Senate will be decided on November 6, now less than 90 days away.
The question on the minds of marijuana industry insiders and cannabis consumers alike is what this election is likely to mean for the legalization of weed. The answer, of course, is that it depends on the results. And, yet, there is a general consensus among pollsters and political analysts alike that the Democrats are likely to win control of the House. But is that really true? And what happens to cannabis if they don’t?
Will the Democrats Win the House?
The most prevalent view maintains that the Democratic Party is likely to win control of the U.S. House of Representatives, but only has a slim chance of winning the U.S. Senate. The following are the five main arguments cited as support:
- Republican Retirements: Because incumbents (from either party) have a number of significant advantages over their challengers (e.g. name recognition, fundraising networks and experience, access to power, relationships with lobbyists and powerful corporations, government resources, etc.), and are much more likely to win as a result, the number of members in a party who are retiring can also be a factor effecting the midterm elections. Regarding the upcoming 2018 midterms, more than 3 times as many Republicans are retiring this year than Democrats. To be more specific, FiveThirtyEight reports, “Depending on how you count, 39 Republicans and 18 Democrats are not running for re-election.” However, if you subtract the 13 Republicans and 10 Democrats who are abandoning their seats only to seek another office, then the numbers look even worse for Republicans. If you exclude this group, then you’re left with 26 Republicans and 8 Democrats who are retiring from politics altogether. 23 Republicans are retiring from the House, 3 from the Senate.
- Democratic Energy: Perhaps closely related to the surge of Republican retirements is an energy gap between the two parties. Of course there are countless reasons why the party that is out of power will oppose the sitting president, but the energy among the Democratic base appears to be at an all-time high. According to a recent poll, when asked if it is important to vote in the 2018 midterm election, 58% of Democrats, but only 38% of Republicans say that it is “extremely” important to vote this November. The Democratic Party today appears more fired up than it’s been since the Watergate scandal. Citing Trump’s failure to win the popular vote, and Russia hacking the election, many Democratic activists are openly questioning the legitimacy of the Trump administration, and are doing everything they can to keep the based energized to win control of Congress. Meanwhile, some Republican donors are said to be backing off from their usual contributions to Republican candidates, including most notably the Koch brothers. “Absolutely Democrats have more energy than we do,” said an aide close to Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino operator who received a $700 million dollar windfall from last December’s Republican tax cut, and who is the Center for Responsive Politics’ top megadonor in 2018.
- The Historical Midterm Pattern: One of the most consistent patterns of presidential politics beginning as far back as the Civil War is the tendency of the president’s party to lose seats in midterm elections. If the president wins election to a second term, the pattern repeats, often with an even more significant loss of seats. Political scientists explain this pattern as the voters simply acting to counterbalance the power of the president. Since 1865, the end of the Civil War, this pattern has repeated itself in 35 of the 38 midterm elections. In other words, even without examining the other relevant factors, the data reveals that there is a 92% chance that the Republicans are going to lose seats in the House this November. This pattern, while not as pronounced, holds true in the U.S. Senate where the incumbent president has lost seats in 19 of the last 26 midterm elections, or 73% of midterms.
- The President’s Approval Rating: Historically, the president’s approval rating has also had a significant influence on midterm election results. If the president has a significantly high approval rating, voters are far less determined to send candidates to Congress that will block the president’s agenda. If, on the other hand, the president has a low approval rating particularly if it is historically low voters are generally eager to do all they can to empower the opposing political party to curtail the president’s power. If the president’s approval rating is below 50%, the loss of seats is often significant (historically, two dozen or more seats are lost in the House). Hovering around 40%, Donald Trump’s approval rating is considered historically low.
- Democratic Fundraising: The Democrats are outperforming the Republicans in fundraising in 56 GOP-controlled congressional districts, Politico recently reported. In contrast, not a single Democratic incumbent has less cash than his or her Republican challenger (as of this writing). Republicans are in fact performing worse than the Democrats in 2010, the year the GOP took the House by storm, winning 60 seats. In June, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is registered as an independent, said he will spend “$80 million to flip the House for Democrats.”
There are also two factors working in favor of the GOP:
- Gerrymandering: In an legitimate democracy, 50% of the popular vote for one party would lead to (almost) exactly 50% of the seats in the legislature. Unfortunately, gerrymandering is deliberately being used to prevent that from happening in order to favor whatever party is behind the wheel. And while both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of partisan gerrymandering, the fact of the matter is that the GOP has been very effective at gerrymandering congressional districts to their advantage. As evidence, consider that in 2012 the Democratic Party won the House popular vote, but still failed to take control of the House by 17 seats (only some of which is accounted for by the concentration of Democrats in a number of major cities, leading to “wasted” votes). If even half of those seats are due to gerrymandering, Democrats will require an even larger percentage of the popular vote to win control of the House in 2018. Alas, gerrymandering also contributes to the extreme partisanship that we see in America today by leaving us with a Congress that lacks moderates, but is filled with politicians of the extreme Left and the extreme Right.
- Strong Economy: No doubt, the economy is doing well; not by all measures of course (e.g. weak wage gains, modest inflation, etc.), but it has been steadily improving since the economic meltdown. And, moreover, a strong economy has generally proven to be an asset to the president in midterm elections. However, along with the recent tax cuts (which are proving to be unpopular, so much so that GOP candidates are no longer campaigning on them), ongoing budget deficits contributing to an unprecedented national debt, and record levels of income inequality (see this viral video), there is one other major shortcoming with any GOP-held hopes around the economy: Most independent voters believe the economy has been on the mend since the Great Recession and, therefore, are not as inclined to attribute the strength of the economy to the economic policies of the last 18 months. Wages have also largely remained stagnant despite GOP promises of “rapid wage growth” following the December tax cut. Furthermore, Trump’s trade war with China and Europe is already taking its toll on the economy and, despite concerted pushback from conservatives, it remains unclear whether Trump is prepared to back down, or whether a trade agreement can be brokered anytime soon (i.e. before the election).
Does It All Go to Pot If Republicans Hold the House?
Not necessarily. Regardless of who wins in November, pressure to end cannabis prohibition is mounting. There are now 46 states that allow some form of medical marijuana. Even if we subtract the 14 states that allow only CBD (i.e. cannabidiol, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid), we are still left with obvious, overwhelming bipartisan support.
Cannabis legalization is, in fact, remarkably bipartisan. Cannabis legislation, moreover, is currently being blocked less because of political partisanship, than the particular committee chairs who are presently in power. Indeed, cannabis legalization is being controlled by a very small minority of Republican leaders who have proven to be aggressively anti-marijuana.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), for example, one of the worst offenders, has blocked no less than 8 of the 11 most popular (i.e. greatest number of co-sponsors) cannabis bills of the most recent Congress, the 116th.
Another powerful opponent of cannabis legislation is Representative Pete Sessions (R-TX). Sessions, who chairs one of the most powerful committees in Congress, the House Rules Committee, despises marijuana and has been blocking cannabis bills for years. The 11-term Congressman, in the words of Rob Kampia, co-founder of the Marijuana Policy Project, is “the sphincter who’s constantly blocking all of the marijuana amendments.”
Even if Republicans maintain control of the House, however, Congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) may not maintain control of his committee, or even his seat. Sessions is running for reelection in a congressional district Texas 32nd District that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, and Kampia’s new cannabis super PAC is “aimed exclusively at defeating” the Texas Congressman. “We have to get rid of him to get our amendments to the floor of the House,” Kampia told the Dallas Observer. “Once we get rid of him, I know we can get our amendments passed.”
Furthermore, Sessions’ opponent, Colin Allred, a former NFL player and civil rights lawyer is giving him a run for his money. In fact, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Sessions’ district as one of the 26 “toss ups.” Inside Elections is also calling the Sessions-Allred race a toss-up. Even GOP analysts have said that Pete Sessions is “the most vulnerable incumbent in the Lone Star State.”
Why, If the Democrats Win, Cannabis Prohibition is History
If the Democrats win the House, on the other hand, they are virtually certain to put the final nail in the coffin of cannabis prohibition. The following are 9 of the strongest arguments Democrats offer in favor of cannabis legalization, and why they are exceedingly likely to legalize cannabis if they win the House this year:
- Cannabis is Part of the Democratic Party Platform: First, cannabis legalization is written into the Democratic Party Platform. In essence, it’s part of who they say they are. Further, Democrats have been promising to legalize cannabis for years, including putting forward a slate of thoughtful bills to end cannabis prohibition and bring the laws dealing with cannabis into the 21st century.
- A Supermajority of Voters Support Cannabis Legalization: Polls now show overwhelming support for ending cannabis prohibition, and removing marijuana from the DEA’s list of controlled substances. The following are the results of a few of the most recent polls when American voters were asked about legalizing marijuana:
CANNABIS FOR ADULT USE (RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA):
- Gallup Poll (October 25, 2017): 64% of Americans say “the use of marijuana should be made legal”
- Pew Research Center (January 5, 2018): 61% of Americans think “marijuana should be made legal.”
- NBC/WSJ Poll (January 24, 2018): “60 percent of respondents supported allowing adults to buy marijuana”
- Fox News Poll (February 7, 2018): “59% of voters support legalizing marijuana.”
- CBS News (April 11-15, 2018): 59% of Americans “think that the use of marijuana should be legal”
- Quinnipiac Poll (April 26, 2018): 63% of American voters support legalizing marijuana.
- Quinnipiac Poll (April 26, 2018): 93% of American voters support legalizing medical marijuana.
- Cannabis is Already Legal in Most States: Along with the 46 states, as mentioned above, that have legalized some form of medical marijuana, we also now have recreational marijuana in 9 states. If you count the District of Columbia, then it’s 10. This provides considerable cover to any of those Democrats who might have reservations about removing cannabis from the list of controlled substances.
- Cannabis is Legal in Canada: The legalization of cannabis in the Great White North is important because Canada is the first major economic power in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use. This means that the U.S. will not be alone in dealing with the reaction from the UN, and the need to withdraw from the UN’s three major international drug treaties. The legalization of cannabis in Canada has also likely stirred the competitive juices of a number of lawmakers from both parties in Congress who will be eager to see America gain a slice of the global marijuana market.
- Cannabis and Racial Justice Reform: Democratic lawmakers have also proven to be motivated to legalize cannabis in an effort to reduce the racial injustices around cannabis enforcement. A recent ACLU report reveals that, “Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and Whites, yet Blacks are 3.73 times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession.” Many Democrats believe that decriminalizing cannabis is the obvious solution to this problem. This, in fact, was one of President Obama’s chief arguments in support of cannabis back in 2014. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” Obama said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.”
- Tax Revenue from Cannabis Sales: The tax revenue that can be gained provides another enticing justification for cannabis legalization. Federal and state governments can also save money by eliminating the need to enforce marijuana possession laws. The ACLU reports that the U.S. is spending over $3.61 billion per year on pot possession. Along with tax revenues and tax savings, cannabis legalization will also help to keep money from going to the black market.
- Banking on Cannabis: U.S. banks have shown considerable caution when it comes to doing business with the cannabis industry because of the legal status of cannabis at the federal level (where banks are supervised and held accountable to federal law). In fact, Wells Fargo recently closed the account Nikki Fried, a candidate for agriculture commissioner in Florida, simply because she acknowledged she was willing to accept donations from the cannabis industry. This creates safety problems for all of those cannabis businesses dealing in cash, which has led to the armed robbery of cannabis dispensaries across the country, including both red and blue states (e.g. California, Las Vegas, Oregon, Arizona, Washington, New Mexico, Michigan, etc.). Cannabis companies operating solely on a cash basis also creates payment and oversight issues for the U.S. Treasury.
- Cannabis Jobs and the Economy: Cannabis is already one of the fastest growing industries in the country. And that means jobs for Americans! There is no doubt, however, that the legal status of cannabis at the federal level remains a major bulwark against the growth of this industry. The “10,000 new jobs” that Colorado boasted about when they legalized cannabis, which was enough to help lower the unemployment rate in their state down to one of the lowest in the nation, will be just a small fraction of what we’ll see when cannabis is legal across the country.
- Cannabis is Medicine: Perhaps the most important rationale Democratic lawmakers are inclined to use in support of cannabis legalization is the wide range of medical benefits scientists have discovered from thousands of cannabis studies and scientific research. This includes cannabis research conducted by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO).
2018 has already proven to be a banner year for cannabis, and now the end of cannabis prohibition itself is merely a flipped House away. If the Democrats win the House this November, as is widely expected, then the entire cannabis sector will gain an entirely new level of legitimacy overnight!
Cannabis Prohibition: Will The New Congress End Cannabis Prohibition in Early 2019?
Original Article by Cannabis Sativa, Inc staff writer John Welch