Democrats lose control of marijuana messaging

Pandemic worries overpower Democrats’ original selling points of criminal justice reform and broad national support.

9/17/2020 2:01:00 PM

Removing federal penalties for marijuana looked like an easy win for Democrats two weeks ago, but the momentum has stalled

Pandemic worries overpower Democrats’ original selling points of criminal justice reform and broad national support.

Even though the bill is not likely to pass the Senate, House Democrats thought the messaging created by this bill was important. Progressives and Democrat strategists say the marijuana vote would actually help in most congressional races and that a vote for the measure won’t turn away voters in droves.

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“If you're trying to punt it as a result of a political calculation, I disagree with that calculation,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a co-sponsor of the bill. “This is an enormously popular policy — not just for our base, but it's also very popular amongst certain parts of registered Republican voters and independent voters. I think this is a win-win-win policy, and I think that we should be doing this before the election.”

Politicalstrategists say that while each House race has its own dynamics, moderates should see the MORE Act as a way to turn out both their Democratic base and undecided independents and not worry about how it plays to voters worried about the “defund the police” movement.

“If you're already motivated on the [idea that] the thundering hordes are coming over into your suburbs to take away your wife and imprison you in a socialist hell, I'm not sure being for [marijuana] is going to add any fuel to that fire,” said Joe Trippi, a Democratic strategist.

Talking about marijuana has helped boost turnout in past elections, said Sal Pace, a former Colorado House minority leader who now is a consultant focusing on the role cannabis plays in political races. He said targeting voters who care about cannabis helped increase turnout during now-Colorado Gov.

Jared Polis’ 2018 campaign, which he worked on.“If a candidate is talking about cannabis in an effective way, and they're running against someone who is not pro-cannabis legalization, that issue can be used to turn out young voters,” Pace said.And with the national focus on criminal justice reform, many progressive say this bill should be a lock.

“This should be seen as a prime opportunity to address a form of systemic racism,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), pointing out that the number of co-sponsors on the bill has jumped from 87 to 111 in the last two weeks.Anti-legalization advocates, however, say the pandemic is not the right time to consider marijuana legislation.

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“Allowing a massive corporate takeover of an addictive drug with scientifically proven public health harms is not good for our nation as we continue to grapple with a global pandemic, along with a crippling opioid crisis," read a letter sent by a coalition of advocates to House leaders

on Tuesday.Pilar DeJesus, with a coalition of protesters urging legislators in New York to pass marijuana legislation, holds a sign against the Senate lobby doors at the New York State Capitol. | AP Photo/Hans PenninkProgressive lawmakers also see voting on marijuana ahead of the election — rather than afterwards — as part of a bigger strategy: It could help flip the Senate.

Both Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) argue that taking the unprecedented step of passing legislation to decriminalize marijuana — even if the bill will not pass the Senate this year — would encourage their base and increase Democrat turnout in key Senate races this year.

“There's a moral urgency in this I think a lot of voters understand — and that this is a motivating issue for them — especially for younger voters,” Booker said. “I know that everything's through a political guise, but I think no elections are going to turn based upon voting for something that is all about restorative justice in this country.”

Many moderates, though, say their problem isn’t with the marijuana bill — it’s on the lack of a coronavirus deal. When asked about a vote on marijuana decriminalization, for example, both Reps. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Spanberger said they are singularly focused on a coronavirus package. Kim added that he is fine with the House bringing marijuana up for a vote, but he — and other moderates including Lamb and Rose — also said they have either not looked at the bill or are still working through the issue with their staff.

“The focus of constituents — the real call for action, the real unmet needs out there — are emergency relief for the pandemic,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who is en route to reelection in his solidly blue district. Brown said he is getting calls from constituents about the pandemic, but no one is reaching out about the marijuana vote.

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In response, advocates and progressives argue the House should be able to deal with both the pandemic, funding the government through a continuing resolution, and still pass other important pieces of legislation.“This week, they voted on a number of bills that didn't get in the way of the CR, [and] didn't get in the way of the COVID package,” said Drug Policy Alliance’s Maritza Perez. “They have the ability … and the responsibility to do both.”

For Perez and a number of other advocates, the House punting on marijuana while still taking action on other non-coronavirus legislation is a reiteration of the same conversation, heard by justice advocates time and time again.“We like to tell people to wait when it comes to things related to justice, which is really frustrating, because that should be at the top of Congress members’ mind,” Perez said. “In my opinion, it's a civil rights bill, right? It's a social justice bill. Why are we not prioritizing it?”

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Grow some. I think if we gave congress and the senate some sweet kush, things would be way fuxking more chill... I'm sorry what. This is a dumb take. The “momentum” myth is a totally American thing and a very good excuse for lacklustre results. You have the possibility to do it and you would even gain votes by doing it? Then do it!

Marijuana is an addictive drug with scientifically proven public health harms.The Democrats want to legalize it.They really hate this country! Democrats have no spine. Imagine backing down from one of the most popular positions in America right now because Republicans are mean to you about it. Pathetic

The guy in this picture looks stoned it 'stalled' because the Democrats are too spineless to actually do it, I guess. “We don’t need the youth vote. At all!” Hoyer is a fucking saboteur. God they just can’t stop tamping down expectations that they’ll do the things they were lying about wanting to do in the first place, huh? We all missed our best chance in Bernie.

It's time we kick the Republicans and Centrists out of the Dem. party. Centrists don't want to win, they don't want the burden of power. This is propaganda. Plain and simple for the establishment How is this even a discussion anymore? We sell drinks that make people angry and violent, but we make billions from it so that's A-OK.

natsfert is the author. Donno why she chose to out RepAOC's pic on the article. She is THE MOST CONSISTENT on this. Please put SpeakerPelosi 's picture. Removing penalties for marijuana use is popular, so let's wait till after the election to do it. The Democrats! Trump would sign it and ruin the plan.

A bipartisan win could be legalizing Insustrial Hemp. Shocked. Nothing is stalled. We need to elect more Dems to a majority. It takes a little more time. There was never going to be to move the election day up to sooner. It is something for the voters to consider. Do you mean big tobacco is, once again, influencing the political lobby? How is it possible that 95% of tobacco lobby money goes to republicans? Coincidence? Must be.

Yeah that's all we need ! MORE ADDICTS 🤷‍♂️ For once do something for the people.

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