Drug Policy Action on Tuesday released its 2016 Congressional Voter Guide which grades members of Congress on how they voted on seven key drug policy reform votes in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2015 and 2016 (there were no drug policy votes on the Senate floor that could be scored).
A record number of U.S. House Representatives earned a perfect score (“A” grade) – more than double the number of Representatives who earned a perfect score from Drug Policy Action in 2014. More than half of all U.S. Representatives (177 Democrats and 64 Republicans) earned a “C” or better.
This surge in support for drug policy reform provides further confirmation of a major political shift underway in Congress toward favoring letting states set their own marijuana policies, as well as drug policy reform more broadly. Meanwhile, support for punitive, hardline drug policies is waning.In 2014, the year that saw the U.S. House of Representatives vote in favor of major marijuana law reform for the first time, 49 Representatives earned a perfect score from Drug Policy Action, compared to 110 in 2016. In contrast, Drug Policy Action’s 2008 voter guide could not name a single Representative who voted in favor of reform every time.
The guide is designed not just to educate voters on which members of the U.S. House of Representatives support drug policy reform – but also to send a firm message to elected officials that they will be held accountable for supporting draconian policies that exacerbate the worst harms of the drug war.“Voters have signaled time and again that they want new drug policies grounded in health and science, and elected officials in Congress are finally paying attention,” said Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with Drug Policy Action. “We’ve reached the remarkable point where more than half of Representatives in Congress are consistently responding to public opinion and voting in favor of letting states set their own drug policies, yet nearly half of Congress is still ignoring public opinion in favor of drug policy reform.
“It’s up to voters to let these Representatives know how they feel about their record on these issues,” said Smith.
Some highlights from the 2016 Congressional Voter Guide include:
• 110 Representatives – a quarter of the U.S. House of Representatives – have earned the perfect score of an A, which is more than double the number of U.S. House Representatives (49) that earned a perfect score two years ago in Drug Policy Action’s 2014 voter guide.
• 241 Representatives (more than 55 percent of the entire U.S. House) earned a C or better in this year’s voter guide. 177 Democrats joined 64 Republicans in supporting at least 50 percent of the floor votes profiled in this guide. This is consistent with results from Drug Policy Action’s 2014 voter guide.
• Drug Policy Action’s 2016 Champions are Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR/3), Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR/1), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN/9), Rep. John Conyers (D-MI/13), Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA/20), Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV/3), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY/8), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA/13), Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA/33), Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY/4), Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA/4), Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO/7), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO/2) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA/48).
• Drug Policy Action’s 2016 Drug War Extremists are Rep. John Fleming (R-LA/4), Rep. William Keating (D-MA/9), Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-MA/4), Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA/16), Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY/5) and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX/32).
The 2016 Drug Policy Action Congressional Voter Guide scored seven votes:
• A bipartisan amendment passed by the House for a second time by a margin of 242-186 and spearheaded by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher that barred the U.S. Justice Department from spending any funding to undermine state medical marijuana laws. Congressman Rohrabacher’s amendment passed in the last Congress on a 219-189 vote.
• The 114th Congress also saw the first ever vote on completely ending federal marijuana prohibition. An amendment led by Republican Congressman Tom McClintock would have barred the U.S. Justice Department from spending any federal funding to undermine the implementation of state medical and non-medical marijuana laws. The vote on the amendment was surprisingly close, losing by a vote of 206 – 222, and came just months after two states had voted in 2014 to legalize marijuana like alcohol, as had Washington, D.C. residents to legalize possession and cultivation of personal amounts of marijuana.
• An amendment led by Democrat Congressman Earl Blumenauer to allow doctors that work for the Veterans Administration to discuss medical marijuana with veteran patients and recommend its use in states where it is legal narrowly failed by a margin of 210-213 when offered in 2015 but passed this year by a margin of 233-189.
• The House voted on two amendments protecting state-legal hemp cultivation. An amendment led by Democrat Representative Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) barred the U.S. Justice Department from spending any federal funds to undermine state laws that allow hemp cultivation and passed by a margin of 282-146. In the last Congress, the same amendment passed 237-170. Republican Representative Thomas Massie (R-KY) also offered an amendment to prevent the U.S. Justice Department from using federal funds to block implementation of a federal provision that legalized hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it. The Massie Amendment passed on a 289-132 vote. In the last Congress, the same amendment passed 246-162.
• The House also voted on a measure that adds 22 novel psychoactive drug compounds to Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act. The bill was authored and passed in response to media hysteria surrounding novel psychoactive compounds commonly known as “K2,” “Spice” and “synthetic drugs.” The bill passed 258 to 101, although more than 70 Representatives missed this vote (Drug Policy Action did not penalize Representatives for missing votes).
The release of the 2016 Drug Policy Action Congressional Voter Guide comes just two weeks before voters weigh in on marijuana legalization initiatives in California, Massachusetts, Arizona, Nevada and Maine, as well as medical marijuana initiatives in Florida, Arkansas, Montana and North Dakota. Drug Policy Action worked closely with local and national allies to draft each of this year’s initiatives, build coalitions, and raise funds.
A new report released on October 13 by the Drug Policy Alliance brings good news for the states considering legalization and the broader marijuana legalization movement. Since the adult possession of marijuana became legal, Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues. During the same period, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.
A newly released nationwide Gallup poll found that a record 60 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales.
In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to a federal law passed by Congress in 2014 that bars D.C. from pursuing taxation and regulation).