Cannabis politics has been traditionally divided along party lines, with democrats often initiating canna-friendly policies. The historical partisanship once active in cannabis legislation has been rapidly dissolving, largely due to voters’ evolving stance, making cannabis a rare bi-partisan issue which has real potential for reform.
The evolution of medical cannabis
The first few states to legalize cannabis for medical purposes have been consistent champions of liberal, progressive policies, and have historically leaned blue – California (1996), Washington (1998), Oregon (1998).
However, Alaska became the fourth state to legalize cannabis in 1998, acting as a bellwether for the recent phenomenon of red-leaning states passing progressive cannabis legislation.
Fast-forward to today: 31 states have medical cannabis programs, Oklahoma is looking to open one of the most robust medicinal markets in the country, the Republican Party of Texas just endorsed decriminalization and medical cannabis, and Nebraska and North-Dakota could soon vote to end statewide prohibition in upcoming ballot measures.
Although traditionalist conservative attitudes about cannabis do still exist in the Republican Party, i.e. Jeff Sessions, Republican representatives are fighting for legalization in places like South Carolina, Missouri, Texas, Utah, and Tennessee. While progressive in cannabis, many of these representatives still appeal to their core bases’ conservative values.
Another high profile cannabis convert is Senator Cory Gardner, who once opposed cannabis legalization in his home state Colorado, and now is spear-heading bi-partisan cannabis legislation.
The driving force
Shifting attitudes on cannabis legislation amongst legislators has not happened over-night, and has not come without significant public pressure.
Cannabis is a perfect example for public opinion moving legislative action. Support for legalizing cannabis for adult use is at an all-time high, reaching 64% in 2017.
In 2017, cannabis legalization also won majority support amongst Republicans, reaching 51% – up 9 percentage points from 2016.
The shift in public opinion has also served to further legitimize the emerging cannabis industry, by welcoming some high-profile industry converts. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner has recently joined the advisory board for a large, national cannabis company. Boehner articulated many Americans’ stance on cannabis in a recent interview, “Over the last 10 or 15 years, the American people’s attitudes have changed dramatically. I find myself in that same position.”
Applied pressure from voters has forced red-states across the country to embrace cannabis on a state-level, and the issue commands more national support by the day.
Real potential for reform
Bi-partisan legislation is increasingly rare in the current political climate, and cannabis represents an issue that everyone can get behind, with a real chance for federal change on the horizon.
“I think there’s enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle to get this done. This is an example of Congress doing its job,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who co-sponsors the STATES Act with Senator Cory Gardner. This legislation has received a high-profile backer, with President Trump signaling his support.
It’s not just republicans changing their minds on cannabis, it’s everyone. While advocates will need to continually apply pressure on public officials, expect the change in ideology to only increase. As markets continue to develop, representatives will become even more eager to support progressive cannabis policies that will boost their state economies, and ultimately lead to a more fair and equitable America.