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Cannabis Reform A Hot-Button Issue In Nevada Senate Race

By Rick Schettino
Aug 16, 2018

The battle for Nevada’s contested Senate seat in this year’s midterm elections is too close to call, with recent polls showing the challenger, Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen and incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller neck and neck. A recent poll from Suffolk University in Boston and the Reno Gazette-Journal shows Heller leading Rosen by a one-point margin among likely voters.

 

One of the hot buttons for Nevada voters this year is legal cannabis. Heller is tepid in his response to federal legislation to end prohibition. The Republican Senator has done nothing to push back on actions by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions which could threaten the industry and has voted against federal cannabis legislation that is popular with his constituents. Rosen, on the other hand, made it very clear that this is an issue she strongly supports.

[Read More: Cannabis Comes Up For A Vote This November]

Rosen, who has represented Nevada’s third District since winning a seat in the U.S. Congress in 2016 recently tweeted, “Since Nevadans made it clear that marijuana should be legal, our state has enjoyed more jobs and a strong tax revenue. This is why I’m supporting legislation to regulate marijuana like alcohol.”

 

A day earlier, Rosen had signed onto bipartisan legislation called the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would end Schedule I status for cannabis. Meanwhile, Heller, in 2015 issued a statement saying, “the time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies.”

Back in January, Rosen co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that would prohibit federal prosecution of individuals for possession of marijuana. She also signed onto numerous letters to President Trump, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and leaders in both the House and Senate denouncing moves by Sessions to weaken federal protections for state cannabis programs and urging federal action to end marijuana prohibition.

Rosen also cosponsored the STATES Act to strengthen states’ rights on marijuana, the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act of 2018, the SAFE Act of 2017 and expressed her support of additional efforts by Washington lawmakers to bring some common sense into federal cannabis policy.

[Read More: Cuomo To Legalize Cannabis In New York]

Meanwhile, as Rosen pointed out in January, Heller is the only Republican senator from a recreational cannabis state up for reelection this year who voted to confirm Sessions as Attorney General knowing his views on legal cannabis. And although Heller did cosponsor the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2015 and the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States (CARERS) Act of 2015, he has not signed onto the CARERS Act or the banking bill in their current iterations.

Rosen has consistently tweeted about marijuana at least two dozen times this year while Heller has been silent on the issue.

 

In January, Rosen penned a letter to Sessions urging him to reverse his decision to tear up the “Cole Memorandum” which guided federal agencies to allow states to implement cannabis legislation without Federal interference.

Recently, Rosen submitted or supported several amendments to H.R. 6147, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of Fiscal Year 2019. One of these amendments, if accepted, would prohibit federal funds from being used to penalize a financial institution for serving a legitimate marijuana business.

“The amendments I’m supporting will help to ensure that banks working with legal marijuana businesses in Nevada are safeguarded from potential interference by the federal government,” said Rosen.

In a press release regarding the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, Rosen wrote, “Nevada voters chose to legalize recreational marijuana in 2016, and states like Nevada have shown that allowing responsible adults to purchase marijuana legally supports our state budget, creates new jobs and businesses, and drives our economy instead of making our broken criminal justice system worse. I believe it’s time to end the federal prohibition on marijuana, start regulating this product like alcohol and get rid of barriers for states like ours where voters have made this decision to move forward.”

 

Being the only incumbent in a state won by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, Heller is believed to be the most vulnerable Republican senator up for reelection in 2018. Heller's favorability rating is currently at 39 percent with a hefty 41.8 percent unfavorable rating. Rosen, whose favorability rating is just 34 percent fares much better than Heller with an unfavorable rating of only 27 percent. However, 16 percent of voters said they've never heard of Rosen. That may change as last week former President Barack Obama publicly endorsed Congresswoman Rosen.

With the midterm elections just around the corner, and nothing less than the balance of the Senate at stake, many in the party see this race as a must-win for the Democrats. For this reason, the Rosen-Heller contest is shaping up to be one of the most costly campaigns in the country. A win for Rosen could flip the current 49-51 seat Senate in favor of Democrats creating a favorable environment for federal cannabis reform.

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