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politico – Republicans watch their states against weed – and they’re not sold

“I oppose it,” said Daines, who is also a major sponsor of the SAFE Banking Act, which would make it easier for the cannabis industry to access financial services, such as bank accounts. and small business loans. “The people of Montana decided they wanted this to be legal in our state, and that’s why I also support the SAFE Banking Act – it’s the right thing to do – but I don’t support federal legalization. ”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pledging to push forward a far-reaching federal legalization bill, even though President Joe Biden is not on board. But before he can corner the White House on the issue, Schumer must win over at least 10 Republicans – perhaps more, since Democrats like the Senses. Jon Tester and Jeanne Shaheen are unlikely to support the measure – to join his cause.

Lawmakers whose voters have already endorsed some form of legal marijuana are seen as the most likely to support easing federal restrictions, but so far Republican senators appear largely unresponsive to the will of voters when it comes to issues. weeds. In some states, like Montana and South Dakota, marijuana has fared better than their senators.

POLITICO spoke to a dozen GOP senators who represent the medical and recreational cannabis markets in recent days. None pledged to vote to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, but the senses. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota said they were open to discussing ways to remove federal cannabis sanctions. Others, however, said they did not agree with any type of federal cannabis law.

“I think they can do other narcotics and things to ease the pain and suffering of people,” said GOP Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama, where medical marijuana was legalized earlier this year. When asked if he thought his position was in conflict with the will of the Alabamans, Shelby replied, “I don’t know. You have to have some principle yourself.

Three of the 18 states that have passed full legalization – Alaska, Montana, and Maine – are represented by at least one Republican senator. Three dozen states have also legalized medical marijuana, including conservative strongholds such as Alabama and Oklahoma.

Voters in South Dakota approved a recreation legalization measure in November that is now blocked in court. If so, two other Senate Republicans – including Minority Whip John Thune (RS.D.) – would represent a state where anyone 21 or older can buy weed.

“Medical is getting big – recreational is not yet that big, but it is growing – and there will be more initiatives on the ballot,” Thune said, discussing the increase in voting metrics and the legislation in the country’s red states. “It’s an area that is still evolving, and our country’s views on it are evolving… How we deal with it nationally, I think it’s still an open question.”

The Gardner effect

Many in the industry were hoping that the 2020 wave of red state legalization would translate into increased support for cannabis reform from the GOP. Their case study # 1: former Colorado Senator Cory Gardner.

Gardner was elected to the Senate in 2014, the same year Colorado’s recreational marijuana industry went online. Despite his opposition to the legalization ballot measure, Gardner has become one of the greatest champions of cannabis policy on Capitol Hill. During his tenure, he introduced a number of bills to ease federal restrictions on marijuana and convinced the Trump administration to promise not to interfere with legal states.

Many advocates refer to Gardner to say Republicans who now represent legal states are likely to move on the issue. But the political environment that prompted Gardner to defend cannabis was quite specific to Colorado.

Sal Pace, former Democratic President of Colorado House, explained that the state’s cannabis industry plays an influential role role in politics, and it’s something that Colorado voters really care about.

“It was a smart political move on Cory’s part,” said Pace, who now heads a nonprofit focused on registering and involving cannabis users in voting.

Gardner’s support for cannabis was also likely motivated by a very close re-election race in 2020 – something that most Republicans in legal states do not face in 2022. Senators Susan Collins of Maine, Dan Sullivan of the Alaska and Daines have all just been re-elected.

The only senator to be re-elected from a The legal state in 2022 is Murkowski, who said in an interview that removing federal cannabis sanctions could end up being the “cleanest” way to overcome the many obstacles facing cannabis companies.

“You have to gauge the will of the public with your own conscience, and that’s what we [senators] do every day in many areas. And he’s definitely one of those who’ll probably test that, ”said Cramer, who represents a state where medical marijuana is legal. “The state made these decisions. And now the question is how to respond to the state’s decision to make it as ethical an industry as possible? “

Industry vs voters

Part of the restriction may be due to conflicting messages from industry and voters in legal states.

“When you talk about my constituents, the main focus of what interests them (…) are these two bills that I am co-sponsoring,” Sullivan said, referring to the SAFE Banking Act and legislation that would allow states to make their own decisions on cannabis policy without fear of federal sanctions.

Jennifer Canfield, a board member for the Alaska Marijuana Industry Association, says federal legalization is supported by most voters in Alaska, but some in the state’s industry would prefer legislation that doesn’t open wide the door to a national cannabis market.

“I think a lot of people are concerned about federal legalization when it comes to transferring product from other states.” Canfield said. “My instinct tells me that [Sullivan is] probably correct that those who support MORE law, and generally federal legalization, are probably in the minority [in Alaska’s industry]. “

Cannabis advocates and lobbyists say their work in the Senate is just beginning.

“The House has had time to think about marijuana policy, to debate marijuana policy. They’ve been doing it for a few years, ”said Maritza Perez of the Drug Policy Alliance, which advocates for the legalization of all drugs. “The Senate really didn’t do it.”

Perez said the DPA waited until the Schumer Bill was introduced before launching a large-scale lobbying campaign in the Senate, but that it planned to target Legal State Republicans just as heavily as some moderate Democrats.

“[Do] Senator [Cory] Booker, [Ron] Wyden and Schumer have enough sweeteners to sway some Republicans? said David Culver, vice president of government relations at Canopy Growth, one of the largest cannabis companies in Canada with big plans for expansion in the United States. “The million dollar question with a lot of Republicans in the Senate is how far are they willing to go?

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