There has been a lot of talk that marijuana legalization is a sure thing in the United States ever since the Democrats took back the U.S House in the midterms. But legal weed is one of those issues that needs bipartisan reach before it can ever claim the necessary votes in both chambers of Congress. Fortunately, the issue is slowly starting to reel in some support from the Republicans, a party that has been hell-bent against marijuana over the years. But this change of heart has very little to do with conservative forces embracing the leaf. It is more about cannabis industry players understanding that money talks when it comes to influencing Congress.
According to a recent analysis from the folks at Cannabis Wire, Republican support for marijuana-related issues has increased tenfold in the House and Senate. “From twenty-three co-sponsors in 2011 and 2012, to 256 from 2017 to the present—the most in any Congress,” the report reads. The Democrats have also tendered a higher level of support for pot, showing a nearly five-fold increase over the same timeframe. But all of this support hasn’t been geared toward ending federal prohibition. These are lawmakers who may have got behind legislation or amendments related to the issue.
But most Republicans are still not prepared to vocally support marijuana. Some of this resistance was the fault of Texas Republican Pete Sessions, who as chairman of the House Rules Committee blocked several cannabis-related measures from so much as being discussed. But those shenanigans are all over. Sessions lost his seat to Democrat Colin Allred – a cannabis supporter – in the midterms. Of course, House Speaker Paul Ryan has also been a roadblock for cannabis reform.
But the GOP is making cannabis industry friends – friends with money to help further political agendas.
The report shows that major cannabis industry players donated $218,100 to Republican candidates and PACs over the past two years while dropping $95,000 to grease the political wheels of Democrats. Among the contributors are Brendan Kennedy, founder of Privateer Holdings, John Lord, CEO at LivWell, and Adam Bierman, MEO at MedMen. These are the people who understand that it is necessary to play Washington politics to get what they want, according to Don Murphy, a lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project.
“If you want to be a player you’ve got to play,” he remarked. “You need to be supportive of the people who support you. If you don’t help these guys they could end up losing, and those who were against our position will say, ‘Look what it got them.’”
The cannabis industry now understands that it is essential to their business interests to rally support on the Republican side. During the Obama Administration, a time when the cannabis trade found some newfound freedom to experiment with statewide legalization, Democrats were in total control of Congress. But Murphy says this wasn’t enough to get anything accomplished. This is the reason more Republicans are being paid these days to support marijuana.
U.S. Representative told Cannabis Wire that cannabis industry money would soon inspire Congress to take the issue seriously.
“I’m not saying that everybody here alters their vote based on who supports them monetarily,” he said. “I’m just saying that a lot of people do.”
But will anything shake out in 2019? Maybe. Some Democrats are expected to push marijuana legislation as soon as the session begins in January. There is speculation that the STATES Act, which is designed to give states the right to legalize marijuana without any federal interference, may be in the best position to go the distance. The measure would give Republicans the opportunity to support marijuana legalization without actually changing the rules at the federal level. It could be the baby step needed to open the floodgates to nationwide legalization in the next few years.