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Marijuana Votes Matter

Nov 19, 2020

Biden, Democrats, Don Murphy, election, federal law, Jeff Sessions, Marijuana Moment, MORE Act, Republicans, Senator Cory Gardner, STATES Act, Trump


I should be fired.

For the past four years, I have tried to convince my party and my president to embrace marijuana policy reform. It should have been easy. After all, it is consistent with our core beliefs of freedom, individual liberty, personal responsibility, and federalism. But I failed.

I know from personal experience as a former legislator who was the original lead sponsor of my state’s first medical marijuana law that drug policy advocacy by a Republican is not the third rail everyone reflexively assumes it to be. Either because of, or in spite of, my advocacy over the past 20 years, I was also elected by Maryland’s most partisan Republicans to be a party chair and four-time RNC convention delegate, once as delegation chair and twice for Trump.

As a candidate, Trump said he was in favor of medical marijuana… “100%.” He also said he knew sick people who use marijuana for medical purposes and that, “it really does help them.” I knew then that he was sympathetic to patients and to our cause. And he thought legalizing marijuana should be left up to the states. I was dealt a pretty good hand.

During the 2016 election, four blue states passed adult-use marijuana ballot initiatives. One in Arizona failed by two points. Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota passed medical marijuana with 53%, 58%, and 64% respectively. In Florida, medical marijuana received 71% of the vote, besting Trump by 1.9 million votes (6,519,000 for Measure 2 and 4,618,000 for Trump).

In battleground Florida, pot was more popular than the president, and Trump apparently noticed. His vocal support for Senator Cory Gardner’s STATES Act suggested that the drug war he had inherited would be another of the endless wars that would cease under his leadership.

In 2018, battleground Michigan passed commercial cannabis with 56% of the vote. Ruby red states Utah, Oklahoma, and Missouri passed medical with 53%, 57%, and 67% of the vote respectively and cost one Republican congresswoman her seat. Surely the Trump Administration noticed. Yet they never acted.

The Democrats won the House, and with its ‘leave it to the states’ attitude the STATES Act wasn’t comprehensive enough. It died without a vote. Progressives replaced STATES with the MORE Act, which proved too heavy to get off the runway. It has yet to get a floor vote.

Knowing he agreed with the policy and could witness firsthand the value of the politics, I was just waiting for executive action. In August, in anticipation of an ‘October Surprise,’ MPP hand-delivered to the administration a list of what Trump could do to bring this civil war to an end. Yet they never acted.

When it was apparent that the Democratic nominee would be the author of the ‘94 crime bill, Joe Biden, the RNC and the Trump campaign were quick to juxtapose Trump’s criminal justice reform efforts with Biden’s “lock ‘em up” history. But it was difficult to make the case that Biden was bad on cannabis when Trump wasn’t yet good on cannabis. Trump’s vocal support of STATES was negated by his nomination of Jeff “good people don’t smoke pot” Sessions as Attorney General and Sessions’ subsequent repeal of the Cole Memo.

Finally in August, the president blamed marijuana ballot initiatives for the defeat of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for bringing “out like a million people that nobody ever knew were coming out.” I knew then that Trump understood the benefit of being on the right side of reform. Yet he never acted.

Maybe Trump is right, maybe not. According to an analysis by Marijuana Moment, one thing is certain: sharing your ballot with cannabis will embarrass you. In the red states, in the blue states, and in the battleground states, pot is more popular than the pols. This year, medical cannabis beat the president in South Dakota and Mississippi. Adult-use bested all the Senate, House, and Gubernatorial candidates in Montana and beat both Trump and Biden in New Jersey and Arizona.

If Trump is correct, there is a certain irony that, less than three months after his remarks to Walker, cannabis got 60%, Trump 49% in battleground Arizona. His margin was razor thin. In a race where everything mattered, marijuana votes mattered. Did being on the wrong side of cannabis not only embarrass Trump (and McSally) in Arizona, but also cost him the state’s 11 electoral votes and maybe the White House? Based on his comments in Wisconsin, Trump must think so.

Either way, someone should get fired.

Don Murphy is the director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, a former Maryland legislator, and four-time Republican National Committee Convention Delegate.