Professor Cormack runs DC Inbox, finds that lawmakers are communicating with their constituents about marijuana

New Day at Capitol for Marijuana: Lawmakers Now Talk About It

WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s a new day on Capitol Hill: Many lawmakers now correspond with their constituents about marijuana, which was largely seen as taboo just a decade ago.  

The finding comes from Prof. Lindsey Cormack, who teaches Social Science and Political Science at the Stevens Institute of Technology. She runs DC Inbox, which tracks how federal lawmakers communicate with their constituents through their electronic franked mail privilege.

And she found that lawmakers are now talking marijuana, which is new.  

“I know that they’re talking about it, and they used to not,” Cormack tells The News Station.

Source: DC Inbox

She and her team haven’t been able to study all the raw data yet, but they’ve seen an uptick in lawmakers using either ‘marijuana’ or ‘cannabis’ when corresponding with those they represent.  

A “frank” is a lawmaker’s signature. Starting in 1775, federal lawmakers were able to correspond with their constituents using taxpayer dimes. But they were forced to use snail mail. These days lawmakers can pay for tweets and Facebook posts using their franked mail budget. They’re also able to send emails and other electronic forms of communication, which is what DC Inbox tracks.

The professor’s undergraduate students pushed her to crunch these latest numbers.

“‘Do they talk about weed?’” Cormack says her students always ask.

“I used to answer like, ‘No actually. Never,’” Cormack says.

‘The whole landscape has changed”

Prof. Lindsey Cormack

Until now.

“The whole landscape has changed,” Cormack says. “It does seem to me that both parties are kind of picking it up and talking about it at the federal level.”

Cormack says this is a notable change, because even though substances like psilocybin — or shrooms — have now been approved by voters in spots like Oregon, Denver and even here in the nation’s capital, lawmakers aren’t talking about them yet.

“They don’t ever talk about psilocybin or hallucinogens or those sorts of things,” Cormack says. “They talked about opioids the whole last 10 years, and marijuana is the only one that I’ve kind of seen go up because I just did my little look at what drugs they were really talking about and that was the only sort of interesting one.”

She says her research is a universal snapshot of Congress, which she likens to an archiving story project. So she and her researchers are looking for how each party’s phrasing evolves (or devolves) over time, including how the subject matters they debate changes.

“They also used to talk about bath salts a lot, which I kind of forgot about,” Cormack says.

“The House of Representatives, they’re now becoming more and more representative of the will of the public”

Justin Strekal of NORML

When it comes to marijuana, advocates say it’s about time. 

“The House of Representatives, they’re now becoming more and more representative of the will of the public,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, tells The News Station. “More and more lawmakers are following the lead of the American public, who in national survey after survey express a super-majority support for legalization of marijuana nationwide.”

As for the massive spike in Republicans discussing marijuana this summer? That came after GOP leaders opposed the inclusion of the Safe Banking Act — which would allow marijuana companies to access the US financial system — in the Heroes Act, which was one of Democrat’s coronavirus stimulus bills. Rank-in-file Republicans then followed party leaders and attacked Democrats for trying to protect their state’s locally legal industry in the midst of the pandemic.

“Their actions were purely motivated out of an animosity to sick Americans who benefit from the therapeutic use of cannabis out of a desire to continue to make access to their physician recommended medication difficult,” Strekal says.  

Even though marijuana is now as legal as beer in 15 states, the District of Columbia, numerous territories and on some tribal lands (and also legal for medicinal use in more than half the nation), Cormack says this new uptick in the use of terms “marijuana” and “cannabis” wasn’t self-evident.   

“That’s never been a topic that I said like, ‘Oh, it’s picking up.’ It took me having to look at the numbers to figure that out,” Cormack says. “Because it wasn’t like an overwhelming pattern. Like, I wouldn’t have known that pattern had I not graphed it out by date.”

That seems to show most lawmakers who represent states where marijuana is now legal aren’t talking about marijuana — an issue their constituents care about — enough.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

Matt Laslo is Managing Editor of The News Station. To learn more about the veteran political reporter and professor -- or to read more of his work -- his bio page is here.

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