Last week’s off-year elections not only brought further proof that Democrats are doing better with voters than the pundits, polls and political media keep insisting, they also marked a major stride forward for the cannabis legalization movement: In a referendum, Ohio voters resoundingly approved Issue 2 by a vote of 57%-43%.
By almost precisely the same margin, Ohioans approved a measure to add abortion rights to the state constitution. Rick Santorum, a former Ohio U.S. Senator and current cable news yammerer whose radical, right-wing views seemed outlandish just a decade ago, but now comport perfectly with the party’s mainstream, declared on election night that both measures passed because they’re “sexy.” His theory was that the sexiness of abortion and cannabis drew young voters to the polls—because who likes sexy abortions more than the young do?—and declared that “pure democracy,” in the form of voter initiatives, is “not the way to run a country.”
As shown later in the week, and as seen on a regular basis for several years now, Republicans’ ideas about how to run a country have a lot to do with subverting the will of voters. The party in Ohio vowed to fight against both measures via possible legislation and through the courts.
But they can’t stop the national momentum behind legalization. Ohio is the 24th state to legalize pot for adult use, with more states following. Fully 70% of Americans now favor legal weed, as do 55% of Republicans, according to the results of a Gallup poll issued last week. That’s a leap from just 10 years ago when only 50% held the same opinion.
Of course, this doesn’t mean much in Washington, where the will of the electorate is at best a tertiary consideration. Republicans in Congress, in league with some Democrats, have stymied efforts to legalize pot nationally.
Proponents keep trying, though. The day after Tuesday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, New York Democrat, extolled Democratic victories in both Ohio, Virginia and elsewhere, and included cannabis legalization in his litany of what he called defeats of “MAGA extremism.” In part, this was an attempt to drive a wedge between those MAGA extremists and Republican lawmakers who still might be called “moderate,” at least by comparison.
Still, for the moment, most of those “moderates” are toeing the MAGA line, at least publicly. But cannabis might be an issue where some ground can be gained, and Schumer vowed to “keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”
Democrats now hold majorities in both of Virginia’s legislative chambers, which greatly increased the chances of legalization in that state. And in Kentucky, Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, a proponent of legalization, held his office in a decisive victory.
For all the current momentum legalization has, though, it seems unlikely there will be any substantive movement on it until at least after next year’s elections. The new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican, is vehemently opposed to cannabis and almost certainly will not allow a floor vote on the matter.
Legislation to enable legal cannabis businesses access to banking services—in the form of the SAFER Banking Act—might have a better chance, but even that seems unlikely to happen soon.
The frustrations of the cannabis industry and legalization advocates continue to mount. Earlier this month a coalition of cannabis businesses, led by Verano Holdings, sued the Justice Department to block federal enforcement of pot laws against legal cannabis operators. Though the DOJ has remained mostly hands-off the legal industry in terms of conducting raids or busting executives, the threat lingers while the laws are on the books.
More to the point, pot companies are still stymied by restrictions on banking and insurance services, and are still disallowed from writing off expenses on their federal taxes.
“This unjustified intrusion of federal power harms Plaintiffs, threatens the communities they serve, and lacks any rational purpose,” according to the complaint.