Even though most Democrats are weary of taking cannabis reform to the federal level, it appears that Dems in traditionally red states have used the idea of marijuana legalization as a key platform issue. And it looks like it could be working.
According to Politico,this election cycle has featured Democratic candidates prominently favoring changing federal marijuana laws. Senate races in Texas and Nevada, as well as House races in Kentucky, West Virginia, Indiana, and Pennsylvania all include pro-cannabis Democratic challengers running against Republican incumbents who stand on the opposite side of the issue.
Not so long ago—like maybe last cycle—a Democratic challenger in a state this conservative [like Indiana] wouldn’t have been caught dead making an unqualified endorsement of a drug federal authorities still consider as dangerous as heroin by categorizing it as Schedule 1. But attitudes about marijuana, not to mention state laws, have changed so quickly and so broadly across the country that Democrats even in deeply red states like Indiana not only don’t fear talking about the issue, they think it might be a key in 2018 to toppling Republican incumbents.
These Democratic challengers believe the numbers are on their side, especially in light of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ staunch anti-marijuana policies that seem keen on reigniting America’s War on Drugs.
Those numbers are particularly poignant in states like Indiana ravished by the nation’s opioid crisis. A 2016 poll showed that 73 percent of Indiana residents approve medical marijuana legalization. The power of promoting medical marijuana legalization in states, like Indiana, that have been adversely affected by opioids can be seen in West Virginia. Richard Ojeda won a state senate seat in large part through his championing of medical marijuana. Once victorious, he then sponsored the medical marijuana bill that made West Virginia the 29th state to legalize its use.
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No money was spent by marijuana advocacy groups, who were stunned by Ojeda’s successful efforts. Ojeda is running for Congress in the 2018 election.
“There wasn’t a single penny spent, and we won,” Ojeda told Politico. “We did it because I got up and started speaking about it. And then the phone lines [in the legislature] lit up because the people of West Virginia know.”
Whether these new red-state Democrats will succeed remains to be seen. But so far, they’re making a dent by giving their people what they want.