Voters on Tuesday in Oklahoma – Oklahoma! – became the latest in the US to approve broad access to marijuana when they approved one of the most permissive medical marijuana initiatives in the country.
The state’s Republican Gov. Mary Fallin said she’ll work to tighten the initiative and then responsibly implement it, although she was concerned about it leading to recreational marijuana use.
That will make 30 states with some kind of legalized marijuana. Nine of those states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized the drug. Vermont becomes the ninth when its legal pot law becomes effective July 1. Voters in Michigan will vote on legal pot this November. In Utah, they’ll weigh in on medical marijuana.
The entire West Coast of the United States has legalized the drug. The entire northern US border abuts a country (Canada) that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Candidates and Democrats, in particular, are taking note and trying to use the issue to their advantage.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer on Wednesday introduced his own bill to effectively decriminalize marijuana and regulate it at the federal level.
There are other proposals to fully legalize the drug at the federal level, including one by New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, an oft-mentioned potential 2020 presidential candidate.
Other potential presidential candidates in the Senate, including Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California and Bernie Sanders of Vermont have signed on as co-sponsors to Booker’s effort.
A Democratic strategist – Guy Cecil, who has worked for super PACs – said in May that Democrats see pot as a motivating issue for young voters:
“I don’t think there’s any question that in the places we’ve seen legalization on the ballot, that it has increased interest in the election on the part of young voters in particular, that it has increased turnout in those states – that’s not the reason somebody should be for it! – but I certainly think it’s a winner just in terms of the pure politics of it.”
In Virginia in 2017, Ralph Northam used a call for marijuana decriminalization in tandem with arguments about criminal justice reform. Northam’s efforts stalled in the state legislature. Other states’ efforts have contended with courts and hostile governors. Arkansas is inching toward implementing the medical marijuana initiative they approved in 2016.
Support for legalized marijuana has been growing at a sustained clip for years.
In 2000, 31% of Americans supported legalization, according to Gallup. By 2009, support had grown to 44% in their polling and in October of 2017 it was at 61%. Recent polls by Pew and Quinnipiac have similarly shown support to be over 60%. Polls have routinely shown more than 50% support since 2013.
Support for medical marijuana is nearly ubiquitous. Quinnipiac found 94% support for medical marijuana in their most recent poll.
Gallup drew a parallel between the growth in support for legalized marijuana and for same-sex marriage, both of which grew exponentially over the past two decades. The Supreme Court made marriage a right in 2015. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Supreme Court gives anyone a right to marijuana.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, is moving in the opposite direction. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has thrown out the Obama-era guidance to not interfere with states experimenting with legalization, which may have had the inverse effect of galvanizing supporters.
It was a Republican, Sen. Cory Gardner of trailblazing Colorado, that held up Justice Department nominees until the administration relented and President Donald Trump said he’d work with Congress to protect marijuana states.
None of that suggests an imminent bipartisan effort to decriminalize the drug or even that the government is any closer to removing marijuana from the DEA’s list of Schedule 1 drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
But boy does it feel like things are moving fast.
This piece has been updated.