NORML released our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard this week in conjunction with National Voter Registration Day. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade ‘A’ through ‘F’ to members of Congress based on their marijuana-related comments and voting records.
With the 2016 presidential election drawing closer and statewide marijuana initiatives qualified for the ballot in nine states, we need YOU to make it out to the polls to support ending cannabis prohibition. Double-check your status as a voter and encourage your friends and family to do the same. Take a look at how we graded your members of Congress and bring that information with you to the polls on Election Day!
Federal: Members of Congress have approved a short-term spending bill that keeps in place existing provisions protecting those who engage in the state-sanctioned use and dispensing of medical cannabis from undue prosecution by the Department of Justice. The amendment, known as the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, maintains that federal funds can not be used to prevent states from “implementing their own state laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession or cultivation of medical marijuana.” Federal lawmakers will revisit the FY 2017 spending appropriation after the Election.
California: On Tuesday, the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, the nation’s largest state organization of nurses, announced that it has endorsed Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.
Deborah Burger, President of the California Nurses Association/NNU said, “California Nurses believe strongly that the prohibition and criminalization of marijuana has ruined generations of lives, wasted hundreds of millions of taxpayer of dollars and failed to protect the public health and safety. California needs a new approach and Proposition 64 is carefully crafted to strictly regulate adult-use marijuana while funding critical youth programs and safeguarding children, workers and local communities.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.”
The California Nurses Association joins the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the California League of Conservative Voters, Equality California, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML in its support for Proposition 64.
If enacted by voters in November, Question 1 would allow adults to legally possess up to two and one-half ounces of marijuana and to cultivate marijuana (up to six mature plants and the entire yields of said plants) for their own personal use. The measure would also establish licensing for the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis. Retail sales of cannabis would be subject to a ten percent sales tax. Non-commercial transactions and/or retail sales involving medical cannabis would not be subject to taxation.
Massachusetts: A new WBZ-TV/UMass Amherst poll finds that a majority of voters back Question 4: The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act. The measure leads in the poll by a 53 percent to 40 percent margin.
If enacted, Question 4 allows adults 21 years of age and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana outside of their residences and up to 10 ounces of marijuana in an enclosed, locked space within their residences, which mimics the current in-residence allowance established by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for medical marijuana patients. It allows adults 21 years of age and older to grow up to six marijuana plants in an enclosed, locked space within their residences and possess the marijuana produced by those plants in the location where it was grown.
Tennessee: Members of the Memphis City Council are following in the footsteps of the Nashville Metro Council by approving a local ordinance to provide local police the discretion to issue $50 citations for those who possess up to a half-ounce of marijuana. Under state law, the possession of small amounts of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a criminal record. Council members approved the ordinance last week in it’s second reading, with the third and final reading taking place October 4th. If you live in Memphis, consider contacting your member of City Council to urge their support for this common sense measure.
Today is National Voter Registration Day and we are pleased to present this valuable voter education tool to the marijuana movement: NORML’s updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard. The Scorecard is an all-encompassing database that assigns a letter grade of ‘A’ (the highest grade possible) to ‘F’ (the lowest grade possible) to members of Congress based on their comments and voting records on matters specific to marijuana policy.
Of the 535 members of the 114th Congress:
- 330 members (62%) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher (270 Representatives and 60 Senators)
- Of these, 22 members (4%) received a grade of ‘A’ (20 Representatives and 2 Senators)
- 254 members (47%) received a ‘B’ grade (218 Representatives and 36 Senators)
- 54 members (10%) received a ‘C’ grade (32 Representatives and 22 Senators)
- 172 members (32%) received a ‘D’ grade (149 Representatives and 23 Senators)
- 32 members (6%) received a failing grade (16 Representatives and 16 Senators)
- 60 Senators (60%) received a passing grade of a C or higher (Two A’s, 36 B’s, and 22 C’s)
- 270 Representatives (62%) received a passing grade of a C or higher (20 A’s, 218 B’s, and 32 C’s)
- Of the 233 Democrats in Congress, 215 (92%) received a passing grade of a ‘C’ or higher
- Of the 302 Republicans in Congress, 113 members (37%) received a passing grade of ‘C’ or higher
This analysis affirms that voters’ views on marijuana policy are well ahead of many of their federally elected officials. While the majority of Americans support legalizing the use and sale of cannabis for adults, only four percent of Congressional members voice support for this position. Approximately half (51%) of federal lawmakers favor liberalizing medical cannabis policies. However, this percentage remains far below the level of support frequently expressed by voters in state and national polls.
Also evident is that Congressional support for marijuana law reform is largely a partisan issue. While more than nine out of ten Democrats express support for some level of reform, just over one-third of Republicans hold similar positions. This partisanship lies in contrast to voters’ sentiments, which tend to view the subject as a non-partisan issue. For example, recent polls from swing states show that super-majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents endorse medical marijuana legalization. Further, most Republican voters embrace principles of federalism with regard to cannabis policy. Nonetheless, Republican support for this position remains marginal among members of Congress.
HOW NORML’S CONGRESSIONAL SCORECARD IS CALCULATED
- An ‘A’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the legalization and regulation of marijuana for adults.
- A ‘B’ letter grade indicates that this member supports policies specific to the legalization of medical cannabis and/or the decriminalization of cannabis.
- A ‘C’ letter grade indicates that this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference.
- A ‘D’ letter grade indicates that this member has expressed no support for any significant marijuana law reform
- An ‘F’ letter grade indicates that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform
FOR MORE INFORMATION
To find NORML’s grade for a specific member of Congress, please click here for the Senate scorecard and click here for the House scorecard. NORML’s full 2016 Congressional Scorecard and Executive Summary is available online here.
This year’s Presidential election will most certainly be one for the ages. As much of the campaigning prior to Election Day turns negative, NORML is here to remind marijuana law reform advocates that there remains many reasons to remain positive. On November 8, voters in nine states will go to the polls to decide statewide cannabis reforms. We want to assure that you are among them. It is up to us to make sure our supporters are motivated and have everything they need to participate in this November’s election.
In order to accomplish this goal, it is imperative that we make sure our supporters are registered to vote. Something as simple as a clerical error can cause your voting rights to be denied. Take the 2012 general election for example, more than 6 million American voters were not able to vote due to an outdated voter registration.
That’s why we’ve decided to partner with NationalVoteRegistrationDay.org, a nonprofit organization that is focused on one thing: registering more voters. Since the organization was formed, they have made it their mission to promote a national day of action and educate voters on the importance of updating their voter registration.
In the coming days, NORML will also be releasing our updated and revised 2016 Congressional Scorecard, ranking every member of Congress based on their voting history and public statements. The Scorecard, which will be available on the NORML website on Tuesday, September 27, will serve as a guide for voters this November. With five states voting to legalize the adult use of marijuana, and four states voting to legalize medical marijuana, it’s imperative that we focus our attention on utilizing our strength in numbers to mobilize support for pro-marijuana initiatives and/or candidates across the country.
While some in the media will continue to question what impact supporters of marijuana law reform will have on the outcome of this November’s election, I’m confident in our ability to prove that we can and will be an important voting block.
I hope you’ll join us for National Voter Registration Day next Tuesday, September 27, 2016 to celebrate democracy in America by registering to vote! For more information or to find out ways to help promote our efforts, please click here!
More than seven in ten Californians say that they favor voting ‘yes’ on Proposition 64: the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, according to polling data compiled by the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at Sacramento State.
Seventy-one percent of respondents say that they are leaning toward voting in favor of the statewide initiative. Public support is strongest among those between the ages of 18 and 34 (84 percent) Latinos (81 percent), Democrats (80 percent), those between the ages of 50 and 64 (74 percent), and Independents (72 percent).
The poll’s margin of error is +/- four percentage points.
Polling data compiled last month by by the Institute of Government Studies at the University of California, Berkeley reported that 64 percent of California voters believe, “Marijuana should be legal for adults to purchase and use recreationally, with government regulations similar to the regulation of alcohol.”
Proposition 64 permits adults to legally grow (up to six plants) and possess personal use quantities of cannabis (up to one ounce of flower and/or up to eight grams of concentrate) while also licensing commercial cannabis production and retail sales. The measure prohibits localities from taking actions to infringe upon adults’ ability to possess and cultivate cannabis for non-commercial purposes. The initiative language specifies that it is not intended to “repeal, affect, restrict, or preempt … laws pertaining to the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.” Proposition 64 is endorsed by the ACLU of California, the California Democratic Party, the California Medical Association, California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California NAACP, the Drug Policy Alliance, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and NORML.
Similar adult use measures will also appear on the ballot this November in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada.
A summary of 2016 statewide ballot measures and their status is online here.
The principal objective of the progressive movement was eliminating corruption in government, and to accomplish that goal, proponents sought ways to take down the powerful and corrupt political bosses and to provide access by ordinary Americans to the political system – a concept called direct democracy, as contrasted to representative democracy.
It was during this period that the concept of direct primaries to nominate candidates for public office, direct election of U.S. senators, and universal suffrage for women gained traction. And, most important to our work, the procedures known as referendum and initiatives began to be adopted in several states.
In 1902, Oregon was the first state to adopt the option of initiative and referendum to change public policy, permitting citizens to directly introduce or approve proposed laws or constitutional amendments. This process was called an initiative if the change originated by action of citizens, without the involvement of the legislature, and as a referendum if it originated from the legislature but was referred to the voters to decide.
By 1920, a total of 22 states had adopted provisions modeled on the Oregon system. Today, a total of 24 states offer a voter initiative. In the rest of the states, the only avenue to change public policy is through the state legislature.
This brief history of direct democracy is relevant today because it is this access to direct political action by voters that has allowed marijuana legalization to move forward, years earlier than would have been politically possible through the action of state legislatures.
The four states and the District of Columbia that have approved full legalization for all adults, and the five states that will be voting on full legalization in November, all rely on voter initiatives. These progressive procedures have worked precisely as they were intended back in the Progressive Era: They have allowed citizens to go around the establishment to alter the status quo.
Voter initiatives are unpopular among most elected officials.
Altering the status quo has not taken place without some legal kicking and screaming by the elected officials in those states. It comes as no surprise that most elected officials do not appreciate the fact that public policies in their states can, when necessary, be changed without their consent.
As we approach the end of summer and the coming fall elections, we once again see examples of the extraordinary time and resources many establishment politicians and other anti-marijuana zealots are willing to invest to try to prevent citizens in their states from voting directly on marijuana policy.
The reason, of course, is obvious. According to recent national polls, a clear majority of the American public (between 55 and 61 percent) supports an end to marijuana prohibition. If given the opportunity to vote on the issue, they will vote to legalize marijuana.
Elected officials, who otherwise claim to represent the will of the voters in their states, and other self-appointed moral guardians, go to great lengths to try to stop the votes from happening.
Democracy is something they support so long as the public favors the same policies they favor. When the public gets out ahead of the establishment, democracy be damned; they will use any tools available, including procedural and constitutional challenges, to avoid allowing the voters to decide the issue.
Full legalization proposals.
We will have full legalization measures on the ballot in five states this fall: Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Arizona, and California. A sixth, Michigan, would have qualified but for last-minute legislation.
In several of the states with pending initiatives, establishment prohibitionists have gone to court in a desperate effort to get the courts to intervene to keep the measures off the ballot.
In Maine, Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap attempted to invalidate a significant number of the signatures gathered by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Maine, arguing that the signature of a single notary did not match the one on file with the state. Fortunately, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy overruled Dunlap’s decision. When the signatures were recounted, the measure, Question 1, qualified for the ballot.
In Massachusetts, once the Secretary of State had qualified the legalization initiative for the ballot, a group of prohibitionists calling themselves the Safe and Healthy Massachusetts Campaign sued to have the measure removed from the ballot, claiming it violated the constitutional limitation prohibiting an initiative from dealing with two unrelated topics. This challenge was subsequently dismissed by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and the measure, Question 4, will now appear on the November ballot.
In Arizona, a group calling itself Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy — including two prominent country prosecutors and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce — filed suit to try to keep the legalization initiative off the ballot, after it had been qualified by the Secretary of State. The group claimed that the 100-word summary (a limit set by statute) did not accurately reflect everything contained in the 30-page proposal. Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Jo Lynn Gentry rejected the argument and approved the measure, Proposition 205, for the ballot.
In California — the big enchilada for the 2016 elections and a state in which opponents to an initiative are permitted to include on the ballot their reasons for opposing the proposal — it was the proponents who went to court. The Yes on 64 advocates successfully challenged all six arguments that opponents had wanted to appear on the ballot, and Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang found all six “false and misleading.” She ordered the opponents to modify their arguments, most of which falsely claimed the initiative would permit pro-marijuana ads to appear on radio and television and would appeal to children.
And in Michigan, where proponents, MI Legalize, had turned in a sufficient number of signatures (more than 350,000) to qualify a legalization measure for the ballot, the state legislature quickly rammed through a new law in June declaring signatures older than 180 days to be invalid, leaving proponents shy of the required number of signatures. Proponents have filed suit against the state, challenging the new limitations on constitutional grounds, but it appears the appeal will not be decided in time for the initiative to appear on the 2016 ballot, even if the appeal succeeds.
Of the five full-legalization initiatives that will appear on the ballot this fall, only the Nevada initiative, Question 2, was free from a court challenge. Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller certified the proposal for the ballot at the end of 2014. While there are certainly organized opponents, none elected to challenge the measure in court.
In the short term, proponents of legalization will continue to focus efforts in the states that offer the option of a voter initiative. So long as our elected officials, and the establishment interests they represent, continue to support the status quo of prohibition, it makes sense strategically to bypass the state legislature where possible.
But that is a strategy that must eventually evolve, as 26 states simply do not offer that option. For that half of the country, we will have to win the old-fashioned way: By building majority support among state legislators to pass the proposal through the legislature.
It’s a significant challenge for sure, but as we’ve demonstrated with the drive to legalize medical marijuana, after a few more states have adopted legalization by voter initiative, enacting legalization by statute will become more realistic.
For those who live in one of the 26 states without an initiative process, we must continue the painfully slow process of convincing individual legislators that prohibition of marijuana is a failed public policy and that full legalization makes sense.
Many already understand this but continue to fear being labeled “soft on drugs” should they acknowledge the obvious. It is frustrating to have to win over supporters one at a time, but each year it becomes easier as public support for legalization continues to increase, and elected officials ignore the wishes of their constituents at their own peril.
This column first ran on ATTN: