Marijuana was a big winner on Election Day

Marijuana was a big winner on Election Day
© Getty

On Tuesday, marijuana was favorable among voters. In Michigan, voters approved Proposal 1, legalizing the adult use, cultivation, and retail marketing of marijuana. Michigan is the first Midwest state to legalize adult marijuana use and sales, and it is the tenth state to do so overall. An estimated 25 percent of the U.S. population now resides in a jurisdiction where the adult use and possession of cannabis is legal. 

Marijuana also won big in Missouri and Utah. In both states, voters approved ballot initiatives legalizing medical cannabis access. They are the 32nd and 33rd states to do so.

ADVERTISEMENT

They will not be the last. In four states — Connecticut, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois — voters on Tuesday elected governors who openly campaigned on a platform that included legalizing adult marijuana use. In California and Colorado voters elected governors with a long-history of spearheading legalization reform efforts. And in Maine and in New Mexico, two of the nation’s most rabid marijuana prohibitionists: Paul LePage and Susana Martinez, have been replaced by governors who have expressed support for enacting common-sense cannabis reforms.

Some of these statewide election results are already paying dividends. Within hours of his election, Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker publicly pledged to move forward with adult use legalization legislation within his first days in office. In Michigan, Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer immediately expressed interest in pursuing executive action to free inmates incarcerated for marijuana-related violations and to vacate the records of thousands of those saddled with past convictions.

The 2016 midterm results also bode well for the prospects of federal marijuana policy reforms. Most notably, Congress’ chief marijuana prohibitionist — Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsTexas New Members 2019 Congress is going to make marijuana moves McCarthy defeats Jordan for minority leader in 159-to-43 vote MORE (R-Texas) — lost his re-election bid. For years, Rep. Sessions used his position as Chairman of the House Rules Committee to block House floor members from voting on marijuana-related. His actions single-handedly killed dozens of popular, bipartisan-led reforms — such as facilitating medical cannabis access to military veterans and amending federal banking laws so that licensed marijuana businesses are treated like other legal industries. 

But Rep. Sessions is not the only prohibitionist leaving Congress. Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteComey invites House Republicans to hold public hearing after news of possible subpoena GOP chairman plans to subpoena Comey, Lynch to testify before next Congress Virginia New Members 2019 MORE (R-Va.)– who as House Judiciary Chair failed to call any significant marijuana bills for hearings — has retired and will no longer be in Congress following the conclusion of this term.

With Sessions and Goodlatte out of power and with Democrats now firmly in control of the House of Representatives, it would be political malpractice for the Party to not prioritize enacting comprehensive marijuana policy reform in the 116th Congress. According to data compiled by The Brookings Institution, 84 percent of 2018 Democratic primary voters “believe marijuana should be legal and regulated.”

Finally, in the hours following the midterms it was announced that Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsTrump labels Schiff ‘little Adam Schitt’ Top House Oversight Dem says he will do ‘anything and everything’ to make Mueller’s findings public Watchdog group demands release of Whitaker's financial disclosures MORE was out as U.S. Attorney General. As both a congressman and as AG, Sessions was vocal in his opposition to cannabis policy reform — having once remarked, “Good people don’t smoke marijuana. 

During his tenure as Attorney General, his office rescinded the 2013 Cole memorandum, which directed prosecutors not to interfere in state-sanctioned marijuana activity. Sessions’ vacancy provides for an opportunity for President TrumpDonald John TrumpBroward County official Brenda Snipes submits resignation after criticism Retired lieutenant general tears into Trump over attacks against Navy SEAL: 'Disgusting' Senate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks MORE to stand by his campaign pledge in support of letting individual states decide marijuana policy. 

With 33 states now recognizing the medical use of cannabis, and with 10 states having legalized the use and sales of marijuana for all adults, it is pivotal that the next U.S. Attorney General be someone who recognizes that most Americans want cannabis to be legally regulated and that they oppose any actions from the Justice Department to interfere with these state-sanctioned efforts.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.