The 2018 midterm elections have come and gone finally, and once again, the North American cannabis industry is a big winner. With three more states passing legalization initiatives and several turnovers of prohibitionists by pro-cannabis activists, cannabis reform continues to steamroll across North America.
From governor’s seats to new members of Congress, to a stronger hand for hemp-backer Mitch McConnell, election night was a major move to industry stabilization. And it didn’t take long after the election for President Trump to fire the cannabis industry’s enemy number one, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (though his reasons for doing so may be less than scrupulous).
Voters in Michigan, Utah, and Missouri signaled their support for greater levels of access for marijuana. All of the Republican House chairs who fought progress on federal cannabis reform will be gone in 2019, swept away leaving behind a 32-seat gain by House Democrats. Led by Oregon's Earl Blumenauer, Democrats are already talking about a long-term plan to increase states’ protections and end federal prohibition.
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More than 20 pro-marijuana governors were elected November 6 including in Michigan, Illinois, California, Maine, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon, New Mexico, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Some candidates wasted no time in pledging their support for cannabis reform measures including governors in New York, Minnesota, and even Kansas.
On the downside, Republican gubernatorial candidates who are expected to continue their anti-cannabis stances won in Arizona, and Texas, and look to have a strong hold in Florida, though a recount is pending.
In Maine, pro-adult use Democratic governor Janet Mills will be replacing staunch anti-pot Republican Paul LePage who has dragged out a three-year battle against his own state voters.
The November 7 firing of AG Jeff Sessions was generally met with applause by the cannabis advocates — given the two-year “reign of terror” the former Alabama senator waged against marijuana protections. Sessions’ temporary replacement, acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker made strong statements in support of CBD in his 2014 run for office in Iowa, and he has since made virtually no threats to states with recreational cannabis programs. Still, no one expects Whitaker to change the current policy during his brief tenure.
Washington insiders have proposed a short list of possible Sessions replacements, which includes some not-so-supportive candidates such as outgoing Florida attorney general Pamela Bondi (a Trump favorite), and perennial possible attorney general candidates such as Chris Christie who has been a vociferous opponent to legalization in his home state of New Jersey.
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In Texas, cannabis reform foe Pete Sessions was beaten by Democrat Colin Allred who has been instrumental in organizing the Texas cannabis and hemp sectors. Over the past three years as House Rules committee chair, Sessions has killed most cannabis measures from moving ahead in the House.
Two long-time Republican proponents of cannabis reform were also defeated. Former Reagan speech-writer California Representative Dana Rohrabacher was beaten by a massive push against him by Democrat Harley Rouda, and in Florida, cannabis champion Carlos Curbelo lost to new challenger Debbie Mucarsal-Powell.
The biggest development for cannabis entrepreneurs came in Michigan where voters approved an adult recreational use initiative with a 57 percent yes vote. Incoming Governor Rebecca Whitmer was strongly in favor of the measure and called Michigan legalization a strong economic driver, and expressed her commitment to making "sure we do it right."
Missouri brought passage of their prime constitutional amendment medical marijuana proposal, voting positively by 64 percent, while two other medical marijuana-related measures failed. But the passage of the ballot issue seemed little help to defeated senator Claire McCaskill, the Democratic incumbent.
In North Dakota, both the re-election defeat of Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp and the defeat of the recreational use proposal reflected the conservative turnout, which voted 59 percent against the legalization measure after opponents outspent supporters by 20-to-1.
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Utah officials continue to meet to create a compromise implementation for that state's medical program. A compromise to address a special session was agreed upon by Utah stakeholders before the successful November 6 vote where 53 percent of Utah voter signaled their approval.
For her part, the mayor of Washington D.C., Muriel Bowser, said she would pursue regulations to allow cannabis sales in the nation's capital. Only personal home grows are allowed now for access in the city, a provision which was unchangeable with the prior GOP-led Congress which oversees all funding in the district.