John Fetterman campaigns in Pennsylvania. Photo courtesy of his social media accounts

How Legalizing Marijuana Could Save Democrats in 2022, if They Let It

“Legal weed [is] a bazooka that neither party seems to be willing to pick up off the table and use against the other,” Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) — who is running for one of those three seats that can determine control of the Senate — tells The News Station. 

“Legal weed is more popular in Mississippi than Donald Trump is,” he added: 68% of Mississippi residents voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2020 (though the state’s supreme court threw out the ballot initiative on a technicality in 2021), whereas Donald Trump received just over 57% of the state’s vote in the 2020 presidential election. 

Fetterman — like many legalization advocates — thinks this represents an untapped opportunity for Democrats in the 2022 midterm congressional elections. Given that a sitting president’s party doesn’t historically fare well in most midterm elections and control of the Senate likely hinges on three contested seats while control of the narrowly-divided House will be partially based on Republican-dominated redistricting efforts and voter enthusiasm for the two parties, many believe that Democrats need to show voters positive progress on popular bills to remain in power.

Fetterman is banking on the federal legalization of marijuana helping Democrats like him win in 2022  — and beyond. And he’s not alone. Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, agrees legalizing cannabis could have a significant impact on Democrats’ chances in the midterms.

Fetterman for Senate ad dropped on social media on Sept. 14, 2021.

“Given legalization’s popularity among voters, politicians from both parties have an opportunity to gain support by embracing this issue,” Schweich told The News Station. 

“If Democrats are able to pass legalization in the face of overwhelming Republican opposition, then it will help Democrats in upcoming elections,” Schweirch said. 

Julie Oliver, the executive director of the progessive group Ground Game Texas, thinks congressional Democrats should fully embrace federal marijuana legalization and then “make it a wedge issue for swing voters in upcoming elections.”

“We believe Democrats should emphasize the popular things we stand for — a $15 minimum wage, green jobs programs, legalizing marijuana — we call these issues ‘workers, wages and weed,’” she explained. “By emphasizing a message like this, Democrats can boost turnout among young voters, infrequent voters and voters of color and drive a wedge among independent and even conservative voters who see these issues as common sense.”

But, she says, to do that, Democrats must do more than simply voice their support for federal marijuana legalization.

“Pass legislation that shows we mean business on this issue,” Oliver said. 

Democrats, though, are not currently united around the legalization issue. Multiple Democratic senators have stated they don’t intend to vote to legalize cannabis. 

“If you got, you know, something wrong with your eyes and you need to smoke pot and it makes you better. Fine,… But just to get up in the morning and do a joint because you can? No,” Sen. John Tester (D-MT), for example, recently told The News Station.  

Until that changes, Democrats wouldn’t be able to get legalization done even if the filibuster was reformed or abolished, and then there’s the question of if Biden would sign a legalization bill if it made it to his desk.  

We believe Democrats should emphasize the popular things we stand for — a $15 minimum wage, green jobs programs, legalizing marijuana.

Julie Oliver

Oliver believes legalization could get done before the midterms if President Biden made a major push for it. The Biden administration has been relatively quiet when it comes to cannabis issues since Biden took office, but Biden has long opposed legalization. Biden has stated he doesn’t support legalizing cannabis but instead supports decriminalization. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has said the legalization bill in the Senate is effectively a decriminalization bill, so he’s hoping Biden would sign it if it was passed, but Biden has not indicated he would sign the bill.

Oliver and other Democrats who are calling for their party to fully embrace legalization say access to cannabis is what the American people want.

And besides that, they say the industry isn’t just a money maker, it’s a job creator. The cannabis market research firm New Frontier Data released a report earlier this year that claimed legalizing cannabis could create 1 million jobs by 2025.  They also believe it’s the right thing to do considering the fact the War on Drugs has disproportionately harmed communities of color. 

“It’s time for the Democratic Party to show voters we can deliver,” Oliver said. 

Fetterman wonders why many Democrats in Washington continue to take the word of skittish consultants over what average Americans of all stripes are demanding nationwide: the normalization of marijuana. 

“A critical mass is already here,” Fetterman tells The News Station, “When California and South Dakota agree on something collectively, aren’t we already there?”

Thor Benson is an independent journalist who has contributed to The News Station, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and many other publications. Find him on Twitter at @thor_benson.

Thor Benson is an independent journalist who has contributed to The News Station, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone and many other publications. Find him on Twitter at @thor_benson.

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