As Election Day 2016 draws closer, those of us who smoke marijuana, and our friends and colleagues who don’t smoke, but understand the importance of ending marijuana prohibition, owe it to ourselves to vote intelligently, not just for our choice of presidential candidates; but also for those running for Congress.
Because of the reticence of Congress to deal with marijuana legalization, our strategy has been, and will remain for a number of years, a state-based strategy. Where available we are continuing to utilize state-level voter initiatives, and in those states that do not offer that alternative, to focus on the state legislatures.
Five states will have full legalization proposals on the ballot this November, and four states will be voting on medical use laws. At the moment, the polling looks favorable in most of these states, and we anticipate some significant victories to add to those of 2012 and 2014. We may not sweep the table, but we should win the majority of those voter initiatives, including the incredibly important state of California, with 12 percent of the country’s population. Should all five states (California; Massachusetts; Maine; Nevada; and Arizona) approve full legalization, roughly 25 percent of the entire population of the country will live in legalized states.
Federal laws need to align with state laws
But, of course, at some point we must change federal law to rid ourselves of the confusing conflict between state and federal law. We cannot assume that each future administration in Washington, DC will be as tolerant towards the states as Obama has been, allowing them to experiment with legalization without federal interference.
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (I know, its unpleasant to even think of this buffoon being elected president, and it appears less and less likely with each new ignorant and racist utterance from Trump) say they will continue the Obama policy of allowing the states to experiment with marijuana legalization, so we should be protected from federal interference for at least the next four years. After that, we can only hope we have the votes in Congress to amend federal law so the states have the legal right to adopt whatever marijuana policy they want.
And to move closer to that goal, each of us needs to be aware of the marijuana-related stance of our members of Congress, and to work either to change the minds of those who currently support prohibition; or support candidates to replace them who oppose prohibition.
The Congressional Scorecard recently released by NORML is the best place to start. The scorecard gives a grade from A to F to all 535 members of the House and Senate, based on their voting on a number of marijuana-related issues, and their public statements.
How NORML’S Congressional scorecard is calculated
Specifically, here is the basis of the grade awarded to each member of Congress.
- An ‘A’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for adults.
- A ‘B’ letter grade indicates that this member supports policies specific to the legalization of medical cannabis and/or the decriminalization of cannabis.
- A ‘C’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference.
- A ‘D’ letter grade indicates that this member has expressed no support for any significant marijuana law reform
- An ‘F’ letter grade indicates that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform.
And here is a summary of the findings.
Of the 535 members of the 114th Congress:
- 330 members (62 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (270 Representatives and 60 Senators)
- Of these, 22 members (4 percent received a grade of ‘A’ (20 Representatives and 2 Senators)
- 254 members (47 percent) received a ‘B’ grade (218 Representatives and 36 Senators)
- 54 members (10 percent) received a ‘C’ grade (32 Representatives and 22 Senators)
- 172 members (32 percent) received a ‘D’ grade (149 Representatives and 23 Senators)
- 32 members (6 percent) received a failing grade (16 Representatives and 16 Senators)
- 60 Senators (60 percent) received a passing grade of a C or higher (Two A’s, 36 B’s, and 22 C’s)
- 270 Representatives (62 percent) received a passing grade of a C or higher (20 A’s, 218 B’s, and 32 C’s)
- Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 215 (92 percent) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher
- Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 113 members (37 percent) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher
Representatives and senators supporting marijuana legalization
And here is a listing of the 22 members of Congress who earned an A for their marijuana policies.
- Mike Honda (D.-Calif.)
- Jared Huffman (D.-Calif.)
- Barbara Lee (D.-Calif.)
- Ted Lieu (D.-Calif.)
- Zoe Lofgren (D.-Calif.)
- Alan Lowenthal (D.-Calif.)
- Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.)
- Eric Swalwell (D.-Calif.)
- Ed Perlmutter (D.-Co.)
- Jared Polis (D.-Co.)
- Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.-D.C.)
- Ruben Gallego (D.-Ill.)
- Jan Schakowsky (D.-Ill.)
- Chellie Pingree (D.-Maine)
- Mike Capuano (D.-Mass.)
- Jerrold Nadler (D.-N.Y.)
- Earl Blumenauer (D.-Ore.)
- Jeff Merkley (D.-Ore.)
- Steve Cohen (D.-Tenn.)
- Don Beyer (D.-Va.)
- Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.)
- Mark Pocan (D.-Wis.)
Federal officials out-of-step with public attitudes
As we all know, a majority of the American public now support full legalization of marijuana, regardless of why one smokes. A number of national polls over the last few months have found between 55 percent and 61 percent support for legalization nationwide
But our federal elected officials do not reflect those attitudes, with only 4 percent of Congress favoring legalization. If one counts all members of Congress who favor some form of marijuana law reform, that number rises to 51 percent. But that is still far below the percentage of the public who favor liberalizing our marijuana laws.
And while we would all wish for this issue to be a bi-partisan issue, with support from both major parties, the reality is far different. While 92 percent of Democrats favor some form of liberalization, only 32 percent of Republicans are on board for reform. Among the 22 congressmen supporting full marijuana legalization only one, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) is a Republican. Conversely, among the 32 most vocal opponents of marijuana reform only one, Sen. Tom Carper (D.-Del.) is a Democrat.
Again, support among the public is far less partisan, with super-majorities of both Democrat and Republican voters favoring reform, as well as supporting the principle of federalism (allowing the states to decide this matter).
Now, Please Get Out and Vote!
So now you have the information at your fingertips to make an informed decision about who to support in the Congress on November 8th. Please share it with your like-minded friends and colleagues, and let’s begin to insist that our federal elected officials begin more accurately reflect the will of the voters on marijuana policy. And if they don’t, its time they were replaced by those who do.
Keith Stroup is a Washington, DC public-interest attorney who founded NORML in 1970, and currently serves on the organization’s Board of Directors and acts as Legal Counsel.
Banner image: Senator Bernie Sanders speaks outside for those who couldn't make it into a packed rally at Hudson's Bay high school in Vancouver Washington, February 2, 2016. (Diego G Diaz / Shutterstock.com)