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California marijuana policies at play on Election Day, even in Republican strongholds

The Long Beach Green Room sells various marijuana products to recreational users and medical patients on Friday, August 31, 2018. (Photo by Drew A. Kelley, Contributing Photographer)

Marijuana will once again be a hot topic on Election Day, with the future of local, state and federal cannabis policies in the hands of voters Nov. 6.

But this time, voters in states that typically lean Republican will be the ones weighing legalization measures at the ballot box.

A number of red communities in California, from the Inland Empire town of Hemet to rural El Dorado County, also will join dozens of blue communities in voting during the midterm elections on whether to allow commercial marijuana businesses.

Republican candidates — and incumbent Democrats who haven’t traditionally supported marijuana reform — are talking about their support for regulated cannabis, too.

It’s all in response to a simple trend: support for marijuana legalization has never been higher.

“In some of these tight races, marijuana is more popular than the people who are running,” said Michael Collins, interim director for the Office of National Affairs at Drug Policy Action, the political arm of the advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance.

Marijuana reform could see a boost if predictions prove true of higher-than-normal voter turnout among young people in particular, who support legal cannabis at by far the highest rate of any voting bloc.

Either way, the surge in interest from candidates and communities that have otherwise been conservative on drug policy seems to be yet another sign of just how mainstream cannabis has become — and, some experts say, the inevitability of federal legalization.

“The momentum is very much on our side,” Collins said. “It’s not about should we legalize marijuana, it’s about when and how.”

Federal legalization at play

There are federal bills on the table to legalize hemp, to open banking to the marijuana industry, to reform tax laws that penalize cannabis businesses, to expand marijuana research and more. And the future of all of those bills hinges on the result of 470 seats in Congress that are being contested Nov. 6.

In the unlikely event that both the House and Senate flip to Democratic control, Collins believes there’s a good chance that the United States could follow the course charted this week by Canada and legalize marijuana, probably in the next two years.

More than six in 10 Americans now support legal marijuana, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Oct. 8. Support has doubled since 2000, the poll shows, with 62 percent now favoring legalization.

Those statistics seem to be pressuring candidates who’ve been either on the fence or standing firm against cannabis to start backing reform.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., could become the next chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee if voters slip the Senate. (Michael Reynolds/Pool Image via AP) 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, for example, who’s favored to beat fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon on Nov. 6, has long opposed cannabis legalization. But Collins said, “I think she’s seen the political winds shift in the past couple years.”

In May, Feinstein told reporters that she no longer opposed legalization. And in September, Feinstein signed on as a cosponsor to the STATES Act, which would make marijuana federally legal in states where voters or the legislature approve it.

As the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is a first stop for many marijuana-related bills, Feinstein will likely became chair of that group if the Senate flips to Democratic control. That role is now held by Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who has blocked a number of cannabis bills from even getting hearings.

The odds are stacked against Democrats taking control of the Senate on Nov. 6. But they’re looking more favorable when it comes to flipping the House, with several key races to watch in Southern California.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Brooke Staggs on The Mercury News

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Published: October 19, 2018

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