Riding the Legalization Wave: The After-Effects of the Midterm Elections

Burns & Levinson LLP

It’s no surprise that marijuana reform resulting from the recent midterm elections made headlines last week, as three states voted in favor of legalization. As discussed in last week’s blog post, voters in Missouri and Utah green-lit measures to legalize state medical marijuana programs, while voters in Michigan moved to adopt a measure legalizing adult-use (medical marijuana has been legal in Michigan since 2008). With these major ballot initiatives being passed, almost two-thirds of states have now legalized cannabis in some capacity, with 20% of states now allowing recreational consumption. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the growing wave of momentum in favor of federal cannabis reform.

In addition to the legalization efforts in Missouri, Utah and Michigan, Democrats regained control of the House of Representatives last week, including the House Rules Committee, which over the last few years has acted as a gatekeeper blocking votes on cannabis amendment and reform. Republican Pete Sessions (TX), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, lost to Democratic opponent Colin Allred, who has previously been critical of Sessions. As recently as September, Congress blocked an amendment that would have permitted doctors affiliated with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans in states where it is already legal. This came after another amendment was blocked over the summer that would have allowed banks to work with marijuana-related companies, addressing one of the most prohibitive issues facing the cannabis industry today.

In addition to regaining control of the House, several Democratic governor candidates who won their races have demonstrated an advocacy for legalizing marijuana, especially as it relates to the potential impact on tax revenue and job growth. In Minnesota, governor-elect Tim Walz was quoted as wanting to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects kids and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.” In Illinois, governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, who has made marijuana legalization a cornerstone of his campaign, stated that, through legalizing, taxing and regulating marijuana, “we can begin by immediately removing one area of racial injustice in our criminal justice system.” In Michigan, governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer vocally supported the state’s initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, and in New Mexico, governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham explained how legalizing marijuana will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.”

The growing attitude among cannabis advocates seems to be that, as more states legalize marijuana, particularly via voter-approved ballot initiatives, representatives in Washington will begin to take notice and adopt these same attitudes. While this could have a seismic effect toward federal reform, for now we will have to continue to wait and see.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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