.Pot Reform Politics Remain Partisan

Support for legalization still comes mostly from Dems, despite strange bedfellows

The politics of cannabis sometimes seem complicated because, almost uniquely in this sad political era, both support for and opposition to laws reforming cannabis laws can be found on both sides of the aisle.

This has led to some unfortunate rhetoric from reform advocates in support of ghouls like Matt Gaetz just because those ghouls favor liberalizing pot laws. For such single-issue proponents—most of them, to be fair, just individual social-media randos, though there are a lot of them—Gaetz’s overall vileness doesn’t matter a bit; he’s pro-weed, so they support him. 

From many of the same people, we get statements of opposition to Democratic politicians, and not just the ones like Joe Manchin who oppose liberalization, but even the ones like Chuck Schumer, who favor it but are perceived to be moving too slowly or getting too cozy with big, corporate weed companies—not that they are above criticism for those things, of course.

But the situation isn’t really as complicated as it might seem. It’s not really necessary to get into a moral debate over whether it’s OK to vote for people who want to deport millions or who are fine with women dying from ectopic pregnancies as long as those people are pro-cannabis.

The best course for reformers is to support Democratic politicians, period. Support for reform comes overwhelmingly from Democrats; opposition comes overwhelmingly from Republicans. If the Democrats had control of the Senate over the past several years, weed would almost certainly have been legalized at the federal level by now.

But we don’t even need to examine Congress. Look at what’s happening at the state level. In 2022, voters in five Texas cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize weed. Or, more accurately, not even to decriminalize, but simply to ratchet down enforcement by local cops of laws prohibiting the possession of small amounts of pot.

The ballot measures—in Austin, Denton, Elgin, Killeen and San Marcos—were passed overwhelmingly. In Austin, probably the most progressive of those cities, 85% of voters approved the measure. In Killeen, a military town and not exactly a hippie haven, the initiative won 69% of the vote.

In January, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a lawsuit against the five towns, seeking to block implementation of the voter initiatives. Paxton proudly issued a press release declaring that he filed the lawsuit “to protect the public from crime, drugs and violence.”

Paxton of course knows that problems stemming from “crime, drugs and violence” aren’t impacted at all by people possessing small amounts of pot, and that busting those people won’t help solve them. He’s doing this to appeal to his base, which skews toward the elderly and the malevolent. And he knows that the MAGA types who support him won’t change their votes even if they support pot reforms.

Republicans in Ohio are motivated by the same thing: sticking it to Democrats, whatever the will of the people might be. In November, a ballot measure to legalize adult-use weed passed with a whopping 57% of the vote.

Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, immediately began attacking the measure, offering a substitute bill that would ban home growing, restrict allowed THC levels, raise the excise tax rate from 10% to 15%, and direct tax proceeds away from social-equity programs and general substance-abuse programs, and toward law-enforcement and “marijuana substance abuse” programs, as well as safe-driving initiatives.

That would run directly counter to what Ohioans, including many Republicans, explicitly voted for. But screw that if you have the chance to own the libs, right? Facing widespread criticism, the Republican senators have backed down a bit since then—conceding on the home-grow provision, for example—but they’re still trying to fiddle with the law, including by insisting that tax proceeds go to cops.

If any of these efforts are successful at all, look for Republicans in red and purple states, and those in Congress, to step up their opposition. When it comes to pot reform, only one party can be counted on to do the right thing, even if its members sometimes go about it in frustrating ways.

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