Congress Just Got More Marijuana Friendly


Marijuana ballot measures won big on Election Day, and so did candidates who support reforming cannabis policies.

While several federal marijuana law reform amendments were already approved during the current Congress with broad bipartisan votes, the composition of the new Congress that will be seated in January is likely to be even more supportive of cannabis issues.

For example, Republican Tom Garrett, who said in a recent debate that, “I’m advocating for the return to the state’s role as it relates to determining the appropriate marijuana policy,” was elected on Tuesday to replace the retiring Congressman Robert Hurt.

Since taking office in 2011, Hurt, also a Republican, has consistently voted against floor amendments to prevent the federal government from impeding implementation of state marijuana laws.

In Minnesota, Republican Jason Lewis, who has strongly criticized the war on drugs, was elected to replace retiring Congressman John Kline (R). Kline, like Hurt, has repeatedly voted against House proposals to respect state marijuana laws.

More broadly, as a result of California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada voting to end cannabis prohibition on Tuesday, there are now 68 more members of the House and eight members of the Senate who represent places where marijuana is legal for adults over 21.

And with Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota joining the list of states with comprehensive medical cannabis programs, there are 33 more House members and six senators representing patients who can use the drug legally.

That should give a boost to at least two key measures that marijuana law reform supporters have been pushing in recent years.

One, which prevents the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from spending money to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, has been approved by bipartisan votes and enacted into law for the past two years. The vote tally in support of that measure seems likely to grow significantly when it is considered again next year.

A second amendment, which would prevent the Justice Department and DEA from interfering in any state marijuana laws — including those allowing recreational use — came just nine votes shy of passing in the House last year.

Of course, not all of those legislators from the newly-legal states can be counted on to consistently back marijuana law reform measures, but it just became a lot harder for them not to. Opposing the measures effectively amounts to a legislator going on record and saying that it’s fine for the DEA to arrest their constituents who abide by state law.

“More states legalizing marijuana for medicinal and adult use does put pressure on Congress, and the votes are there to end federal prohibition of medical marijuana,” Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance, told

But, he said, “challenges in terms of committee chairs remain.”

Indeed, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who won reelection on Tuesday, has been a key roadblock to reform as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Despite a broad list of bipartisan cosponsors, Grassley has refused to grant a hearing or a vote for far-reaching medical marijuana legislation. But pressure is likely to increase in the next Congress.

Mike Liszewski of Americans for Safe Access said that the House version of the bill should have a shot of moving next year.

“There may me be an opportunity to get a hearing for the successor to the CARERS Act in the House due to the retirement of Rep. Joe Pitts, who had blocked it in the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health,” he said.

Under a partisan analysis, while a growing number of Congressional Republicans have supported marijuana measures, Democrats have been much more likely to do so. And although Democrats failed to take control of either the House or Senate in Tuesday’s elections, they did gain seats in both chambers.

Plus, some of Congress’s most vocal opponents of marijuana law reform are now out of a job due the the election results.

Congressman John Mica (R-FL), who once held up a fake marijuana joint during a House hearing he chaired and has called cannabis a “gateway drug,” was defeated by political newcomer Stephanie Murphy.

And Congressman John Fleming, who once said, “The idea of medical marijuana is a joke,” tried to promote himself to the U.S. Senate. But he came in fifth in the race and now he’s out of Congress altogether. Fleming was one of a handful of members who consistently went to the House floor to argue against marijuana amendments. Now, his voice will be missing from the debate.

On the Senate side, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL), who has spoken out forcefully against measures to let military veterans access medical cannabis recommendations through the Department of Veterans affairs, was defeated by Democratic Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, a military veteran herself who has consistently supported marijuana amendments in the House.

In Indiana, Congressman Todd Young, a Republican who supported marijuana amendments in the House, was elected to the Senate.

What Will The New President-Elect Do?

But what about the other elephant in the room? The oval shaped room.

Donald Trump has repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws if elected president. While there is significant concern that an ardent cannabis opponent like Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani could be named attorney general, attempting to overturn broadly-supported state marijuana policies would be an enormous distraction from other agenda items the new president cares more about, one that he may be well-advised not to allow.

A growing majority of Americans supports legalizing marijuana, and in a number of states, cannabis measures got more votes than the president-elect or the winner of the U.S. Senate contest. Cracking down on state-legal marijuana businesses and consumers would create political problems that a Trump administration does not need.

In all, with this week’s election results marijuana emerged further into the forefront of mainstream American politics, and reformers seem well-positioned to protect existing victories and potentially gain new ones.

Photo Courtesy of Allie Beckett.

About Author

Tom Angell covers policy and politics for Separately, he serves as chairman of the nonprofit organization Marijuana Majority, which works to ensure that elected officials and the media treat legalization as a serious, mainstream issue. Marijuana Majority led the effort to get the U.S. Conference of Mayors to pass a resolution telling the federal government to respect state marijuana laws, and orchestrated the first-ever endorsement for marijuana legalization by a U.S. Supreme Court justice (John Paul Stevens). Previously, Tom worked for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (All organizations are listed for identification purposes only.)


    • Oliver Steinberg on

      No, it’s not over, it’s just incredibly more difficult. The courts , already unfriendly, will be packed even more against us with totalitarian judges; both Houses of Congress will continue to be run by prohibitionist leaders, despite a few more friendly new faces in the back seats. And someone like Jason Lewis will follow party orders when they come down.
      Anything that Traitor Trump has said at any point is irrelevant. He switches positions as the mood hits him; tells people what he thinks will work for him; hasn’t a principled bone in his flabby body or a complex, nuanced thought in what passes for brains in his cranium. His henchmen are interested in enriching their already swollen fortunes, so the only form of legalization they are likely to tolerate would be one designed to achieve that end. However, the existing powerful interests of law enforcement, big pharma, liquor and tobacco, and gambling are all ones who DID support Traitor Trump in the election and therefore he’s bound to listen to them rather than the will of the people. He LOST the popular vote himself!
      But fighting for freedom is the kind of cause that one must dedicate oneself to regardless of the odds against us, regardless of the obstacles, and in spite of the risks. You are not defeated as long as you do not give up, and Truth is stronger even than Trump and Putin and all their oligarchic gangster cronies. At least I’d like to believe it will be, in the end.

      • Yup, agree completely. But AG Giuliani can fuck up the legalization process for YEARS to come. I predict he will threaten the Governors of the legalized states. The Govs are sworn to enforce the laws of the United States. I wouldn’t put it past Rudy to threaten to arrest one, probably a Democrat like Oregon. He’s the Harry Anslinger of the 21st century. On the other hand, that kind of crazy shit may just push the envelope and force the whole federal prohibition debate into the sunshine.

  1. You can’t automatically assume that Senators and Representatives from mj-legal states will support federal mj reform legislation. Only about half so far have supported the majority of voters in their states when it comes to changing federal policy. Dianne Feinstein in CA is a good example of such a senator.

  2. Regarding marijuana, 
I’d say, “Legalize it but don’t corporatize it.” Big business interests should not be allowed to outlaw home cultivation, the farmer’s roadside stand, or small businesses. A little competition may actually benefit larger firms. One cannot patent a plant, only strains which one has created. If home cultivation is forbidden, the number of strains available to patients and public alike will be limited to those that enrich a few wealthy people who favor ‘limited prohibition’ in order to line their own pockets. And commercial crops are likely to be pesticide-rich, rather than grown organically.

    No one should promote the canard that marijuana is dangerous, like pharmaceutical drugs. Or even that it is a ‘drug’, except in Merriam-Webster’s third and broadest definition, as something which affects the mind. By that definition, religion and television (‘the plug-in drug’) should also be included. In truth marijuana is a medicinal herb, cultivated, bred, and evolved in service to human beings over thousands of years.

    “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that had two enemies: the anti-war left and black people. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting people to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, break up their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” –John Ehrlichman

    Prohibition of marijuana is a premise built on a tissue of lies: Concern For Public Safety. Our new laws save hundreds of lives every year, on our highways alone. In November of 2011, a study at the University of Colorado found that in the thirteen states that decriminalized marijuana between 1990 and 2009, traffic fatalities have dropped by nearly nine percent—now nearly ten percent in Michigan—more than the national average, while sales of beer went flat by five percent. No wonder Big Alcohol opposes it. Ambitious, unprincipled, profit-driven undertakers might be tempted too.

    In 2012 a study released by 4AutoinsuranceQuote revealed that marijuana users are safer drivers than non-marijuana users, as “the only significant effect that marijuana has on operating a motor vehicle is slower driving”, which “is arguably a positive thing”. Despite occasional accidents, eagerly reported by police-blotter ‘journalists’ as ‘marijuana-related’, a mix of substances was often involved. Alcohol, most likely, and/or prescription drugs, nicotine, caffeine, meth, cocaine, heroin, and a trace of the marijuana passed at a party ten days ago. However, on the whole, as revealed in big-time, insurance-industry stats, within the broad swath of mature, experienced consumers, slower and more cautious driving shows up in significant numbers. A recent Federal study has reached the same conclusion. And legalization should improve those numbers further.

    No one has ever died from an overdose of marijuana. It’s the most benign ‘substance’ in history. Most people—and particularly patients who medicate with marijuana–use it in place of prescription drugs or alcohol.

    Marijuana has many benefits, most of which are under-reported or never mentioned in American newspapers. Research at the University of Saskatchewan indicates that, unlike alcohol, cocaine, heroin, or Nancy (“Just say, ‘No!’”) Reagan’s beloved nicotine, marijuana is a neuroprotectant that actually encourages brain-cell growth. Researchers in Spain (the Guzman study) and other countries have discovered that it also has tumor-shrinking, anti-carcinogenic properties. These were confirmed by the 30-year Tashkin population study at UCLA.

    Drugs are man-made, cooked up in labs, for the sake of patents and the profits gained by them. Often useful, but typically burdened with cautionary notes and lists of side effects as long as one’s arm. ‘The works of Man are flawed.’

    Marijuana is a medicinal herb, the most benign and versatile in history. In 1936 Sula Benet, a Polish anthropologist, traced the history of the word “marijuana”. It was “cannabis” in Latin, and “kanah bosm” in the old Hebrew scrolls, quite literally the Biblical Tree of Life, used by early Christians to treat everything from skin diseases to deep pain and despair. Why despair? Consider the current medical term for cannabis sativa: a “mood elevator”. . . as opposed to antidepressants, which ‘flatten out’ emotions, leaving patients numb to both depression and joy.

    The very name, “Christ” translates as “the anointed one”. Well then, anointed with what? It’s a fair question. And it wasn’t holy water, friends. Holy water came into wide use in the Middle Ages. In Biblical times, it was used by a few tribes of Greek pagans. And Christ was neither Greek nor pagan.

    Medicinal oil, for the Prince of Peace. A formula from the Biblical era has been rediscovered. It specifies a strong dose of oil from kanah bosom, ‘the fragrant cane’ of a dozen uses: ink, paper, rope, nutrition. . . . It was clothing on their backs and incense in their temples. And a ‘skinful’ of medicinal oil could certainly calm one’s nerves, imparting a sense of benevolence and connection with all living things. No wonder that the ‘anointed one’ could gain a spark, an insight, a sense of the divine, and the confidence to convey those feelings to friends and neighbors.

    I am appalled at the number of ‘Christian’ politicians, prosecutors, and police who pose on church steps or kneeling in prayer on their campaign trails, but cannot or will not face the scientific or the historical truths about cannabis, Medicinal Herb Number One, safe and effective for thousands of years, and celebrated as sacraments by most of the world’s major religions.

    • Oliver Steinberg on

      Thank you William Clark. Our strength is in the power of truth, brotherhood, and love to combat lies, fear, and hatred.

    • thank you for the information and your input on the article. I myself being a MMP, use it for chronic pain and arthritis in my back. It works so much better than the pills my doctor prescribed for me. I am going to share your information with my family and friends.

  3. If Trump and Giuliani do anything to stop the progress we have done to end the Prohibition of Cannabis the protest going on today will look like peaceful marches compared to the marches of those who want to see the end of Prohibition.

    • Yeah, that could be. And they’ll be met with blunt force. Additionally this site, and others, will be shut down for “endorsing a continuing criminal enterprise.”

      • Oliver Steinberg on

        Gary, I share your apprehension. Nevertheless, I intend to keep speaking out. I recall listening to a speech by Illinois Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton in 1969 . . . “I am too proletarian-intoxicated to be astronomically intimidated” (that was the kind of pseudo-Marxist rhetoric favored at that stage in the BPP saga), and as I recall, we cheered as he said, “You can kill a revolutionary but you can’t kill the revolution.” Six weeks later Fred Hampton was assassinated–shot in his bed by a police raiding party. (He was asleep because he’d been drugged beforehand by an undercover informant in the Panther ranks.) There is no moral to this anecdote . . . just the reminder that the struggle for freedom and human rights is a perpetual one, and that the price paid is sometimes bitter, and yet no tyrant has ever yet been able to utterly extinguish the yearning for freedom, dignity, justice, and peace which somehow persists despite persecution and terror.

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