Republican voters are on board with a number of marijuana reform proposals—from medical cannabis legalization to expungements for prior marijuana convictions to letting states set their own policies without federal interference—according to a new poll. And the findings are especially timely as congressional lawmakers work to develop passable cannabis legislation with what’s left of the current congressional calendar.
The survey, commissioned by the National Cannabis Roundtable (NCR), found that most Republicans support incremental reforms, including federal non-interference in state marijuana markets (76 percent), expungements in legal states (56 percent) and treating the cannabis industry the same as other traditional businesses (73 percent).
Yet there are lingering questions about the viability of any federal marijuana reform legislation passing this Congress, with some expressing skepticism about GOP support for anything that extends beyond simply protecting banks that work with state-legal cannabis businesses. The poll found that 65 percent of Republicans back that specific proposal.
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) has been a key player in bipartisan negotiations over what’s been described as “SAFE Banking Plus,” a package of modest policy changes being shepherded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that’s expected to include banking protections but also provisions that appeal to equity-minded lawmakers. Schumer and colleagues separately filed a broad legalization bill in July.
Joyce told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Tuesday that while nothing is set in stone at this stage, there are proposals like providing military veterans with access to medical cannabis and promoting marijuana research that represent “important components” of the in-the-works omnibus bill that “would be good towards getting more members on board.”
He also said during a panel event at the Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference on Tuesday that creating incentives for states to expunge marijuana records if they opt to legalize would be part of an ideal framework that could garner enough bipartisan support to move the bill past the finish line.
According to the NCR poll, which was conducted by Fabrizio, Lee & Associates and released on Wednesday, the bulk of GOP voters want to see policies enacted that give people with marijuana convictions relief in legal states. Joyce and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) filed legislation, the HOPE Act, to facilitate state-level expungements to that end.
The survey also found that 58 percent of GOP voters believe states rather than the federal government should be responsible for legalizing marijuana, 51 percent said cannabis businesses should be allowed to be listed on stock exchanges (as would be permitted under another recently filed congressional bill), 73 percent support legalizing medical cannabis and about half (47 percent) said they’ve personally used marijuana for some purpose.
There’s also an even split when it comes to Republican attitudes toward adult-use legalization, with 47 percent in favor and 46 percent opposed.
There are other recent polls that paint a slightly different picture, with growing bipartisan majorities backing an end to federal marijuana prohibition. Though the reason could come down to framing, with GOP voters divided on recreational legalization but agreeing that federal criminalization has failed so it should be descheduled and left up to states.
Joyce, a co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment that he feels it’s important to give lawmakers policies “that they feel comfortable with, give them the opportunity to engage on the reform and let them be part of the process to develop a format that will help continue, paving the way for more comprehensive reform as we continue moving down the road.”
Sources familiar with the state of negotiations over SAFE Plus have signaled that the bill drafting is fairly far along. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) recently said that he expects the legislation to be introduced sometime after the November midterms, and Joyce said he felt the timeline for a filing would likely fall between November and December, though nothing is set in stone.
Beside further supporting the idea that cannabis reform enjoys sizable bipartisan support, at least in smaller doses, the new poll is also another example that raises questions about the political strategy of attacking candidates of either party over drug policy advocacy, which has played out in several congressional and gubernatorial races this cycle.
One of the more eyebrow-raising attacks actually came from a pro-legalization Democratic congressional nominee from Ohio, Matt Kilboy, who suggested last month that Joyce’s planned participation in this week’s cannabis conference showed he was out of touch with voters in his district. He later deleted the tweet where he made that point amid pushback after Marijuana Moment reported on the line of attack.
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“This issue impacts Americans from all walks of life—no matter if they’re Republicans or Democrats, veterans battling PTSD, cancer patients looking for opioid alternatives, workers who can’t get a job because of their prior cannabis charge, parents who don’t want kids to [access] cannabis and want to make sure that it’s properly regulated,” Joyce said. “So let’s get it straight: Anyone who attacks a lawmaker for working to enact responsible cannabis reform doesn’t understand the widespread, damaging impact prohibition has had on millions of Americans.”
The NCR poll—which involved interviews with 1,000 self-reported Republicans from August 15-21, with a +/- 3.9 percentage point margin of error—seems to underscore that point.
Former Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), an NCR advisory board member, said in a press release that there’s been “a massive shift in opinion, and it’s evidently clear that Republicans have extremely positive attitudes towards legal cannabis.”
“We’ll likely see support for legal cannabis continue to increase this November when Republicans in at least a half dozen states and counties vote on legalization and other issues,” he said. “Which is why it’s time for Congress to enact commonsense cannabis reform this year, starting with key pieces of legislation like SAFE Banking” and the bipartisan Capital Lending and Investment for Marijuana Businesses (CLIMB) Act to allow cannabis business stock exchange listings.
Joyce also commented on the poll in the press release, emphasizing that the “findings support what I’ve been saying for years: Cannabis is no longer the partisan issue it once was.”
“Congress needs to act in a bipartisan manner and enact the change that Americans, both Republicans and Democrats alike, are calling for,” he said. “It’s past time for the federal government to respect the will of the states that have legalized cannabis in some form and allow them to make their own decisions in the best interest of their constituents without interference from Washington.”
Bipartisan congressional lawmakers are stepping up the push to pass a marijuana banking bill this year, and over 100 cannabis business leaders are in Washington, D.C. this week for lobby days organized by a leading cannabis industry association.
SAFE Banking Act sponsors Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) and Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) also laid out next steps for the cannabis banking reform at a briefing organized by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) in July.
Schumer and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) have more openly embraced the idea of a “compromise” as the leader has worked to build consensus on the alternative package of incremental reforms.
While lawmakers have been discussing plans to pass some kind of cannabis standalone legislation to resolve the banking problem, another option that’s still on the table is enacting the SAFE Banking Act as a provision of a large-scale defense bill. The House-passed version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) contains the banking language, though it was not in the Senate version, and it remains to be seen whether it will be included in the final, must-pass package sent to the president’s desk.
According to a poll from Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) that was released last week, a majority of American voters (65 percent) support allowing banks to work with state-legal marijuana businesses—and most people believe it will both improve public safety and promote social equity.
The survey results are consistent with the findings of a separate poll from the American Bankers Association (ABA) that was released in March. It also showed that 65 percent of Americans back the marijuana banking reform.
Separately, the non-partisan National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently voted to adopt a revised policy directive that expresses support for federal marijuana descheduling and cannabis banking reform amid the state-level legalization movement.
Cannabis Regulators of Color Coalition (CRCC) released a paper last month that outlined what they view as shortcomings of the standalone SAFE Banking Act and recommended several amendments to bolster its equity impact.
Booker said at an event organized by CRCC last month that the standalone legislation “requires changes” if it’s going to advance before cannabis is federally legalized.
The senator initially signaled that he was coming around to marijuana banking reform (contingent on equity provisions) at a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing in July that he convened as chairman.
Meanwhile, Perlmutter also said in a recent interview that he feels the introduction of the Senate legalization bill alone means that lawmakers have overcome a legislative “hurdle” that’s kept SAFE Banking from advancing in the chamber.
Read the full results of the new Republican marijuana poll below:
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.