Going into the campaign season for primaries this fall, there is only one state that Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election that has a Republican incumbent senator: Nevada. This makes where the state's senior incumbent senator, Dean Heller (R-NV), stands on cannabis legalization of particular importance to many voters.
Before Heller became a United States Senator, first by appointment in 2011 and by election in 2012, he was a stockbroker/trader on the Pacific Stock Exchange and served in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Nevada's Secretary of State, as a Representative for Nevada's Second Congressional District, and in the Nevada State Assembly representing Carson City. Though Heller has not yet had the opportunity to vote on major legislation about cannabis as a senator (though as a state representative he voted “nay” on House Amendment 674, State and Federal Medical Marijuana Law Enforcement and Implementation, in 2007), his hard-line stance against marijuana has softened since he entered the public service.
In 2015, Heller said he supported the federal government allowing medical marijuana (MM) in states that legalize it, and in March of that year he became a co-sponsor for Senate Bill 683, called the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would protect patients and providers from federal prosecution. In announcing his support for the CARERS Act, Heller said:
"The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies. This bipartisan legislation puts Americans who are suffering first by allowing Nevada's medical marijuana patients, providers, and businesses that are in compliance with state law to no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution."
However, Senator Heller has yet to voice his support for the CARERS Act in its current form after it was re-introduced in 2017. He is also a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 1726, called the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2016, which has yet to pass, and he recently spoke out against the decision by Attorney General Jeff Sessions' Justice Department to reverse an Obama-era rule (known as the “Cole memo”) that prevents federal prosecutions of cannabis growers, sellers, and consumers in states where marijuana is legal. Of the decision, Heller said:
“Knowing Attorney General Sessions' deference to states' rights, I strongly encourage the DOJ to meet with Governor Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt to discuss the implications of changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy. I also urge the DOJ to work with the congressional delegations from states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana as they review and navigate the new policy.”
Our Grade: C
Even though his staunch stance against cannabis has waned in favor of making it a state's right's issue, he has yet to champion the cannabis industry that has exploded in Nevada in a way that supports his words. Even his statement denouncing AG Session's recent actions is seen as an empty action by many of his constituents.