congress medical marijuana
Ending Marijuana Prohibition

One Out of Four US Senators Is a Marijuana Prohibitionist — Is Yours One of Them?

congress medical marijuanaBy Phillip Smith

Marijuana legalization now consistently scores majorities in national public opinion polls, marijuana is already legal in four states and the District of Columbia and likely to be legal in a handful more, including California, before year’s end, and the Obama administration has effectively thrown federal pot prohibition to the wind in the legal (and medical marijuana) states, yet Congress remains to a large degree stuck in the last century when it comes to marijuana policy.

Granted, there are some small signs of progress, some nibbling around the edges of pot prohibition, through bills and spending amendments that seek to stop the feds from interfering in legal and medical marijuana states, but Bernie Sanders’ bill to end federal marijuana prohibition doesn’t sport even a single cosponsor. When it comes to fixing marijuana policy, Congress is going to have to be dragged crying and screaming into the 21st Century.

One reason is a sizeable contingent of senatorial prohibitionists. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which just released its 2016 Congressional Scorecard, more than a quarter of US senators received a failing grade when it comes to supporting progressive marijuana policy reforms. A failing grade indicates “that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform.”

The marijuana consumers’ lobbying group arrived at the grades based on the member’s 2015 voting records on three amendments to appropriations bills: the Daines/Merkley amendment (would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal), the Mikulski amendment (would block the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana programs), and the Merkley amendment (would have blocked the Treasury Department from punishing banks providing services to legal marijuana businesses).

NORML also weighed whether the member has sponsored or cosponsored federal marijuana reform bills, and his or her public statements or testimony. Legislators were assigned letter grades ranging from “A” to “F.”

Before going on to NORML’s hall of shame, it’s worth taking a moment to salute the class valedictorians: Only two senators got “A” grades — Sanders and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, author or co-author of two of the amendments, who also supported the successful 2014 Oregon legalization initiative and has sponsored and cosponsored other progressive marijuana reform bills.

Merkley is the only one of the eight senators representing states where the electorate has already voted to legalize marijuana to earn an “A” grade. The other legalization state senators at least mostly earned “B” grades (“this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference”), demonstrating that they are at least that in tune with their publics.

The good news is that with two senators winning “A” grades, 28 earning a “B,” and 28 managing a “C” (supports medical marijuana or decriminalization), there seems to be a senatorial majority in favor of some pot reform legislation, even if not full legalization.

But there is still a sizeable and obstinate anti-marijuana minority, with 20 senators saddled with a “D” grade (“no support for any significant marijuana law reform”), and 26 ingloriously awarded the big “F.”

Not surprisingly, 22 of them are Republicans, mostly from that great, L-shaped mass of red states that runs from North Dakota down to Texas and then across the South. But four of them are Democrats.

Without any further ado, here’s the list of the Senate’s most intransigent and recalcitrant pot prohibitionists (click on the scorecard for the individual particulars):

  • Sen. Jeff Sessions
  • Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)
  • Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-OK)
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD)
  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Sen. John Barasso (R-WY)

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