Election Day on Tuesday isn’t only about where cannabis legalization is on the ballot, but also where the marijuana industry allies and opponents are running for public office as well.
Particularly in Congress – but also certain state-level campaigns – cannabis reform has evolved into a fairly regular political issue on which candidates often stake out clear positions.
In New York, for instance, Gov. Kathy Hochul’s surprisingly tight reelection bid could throw the upcoming recreational cannabis market into chaos if she loses and her GOP opponent, Lee Zeldin – who was graded C- by NORML during his stint as a congressman – pulls off a victory.
Zeldin called the Hochul administration’s approach to the new recreational cannabis industry “so wrong for NY” in a Twitter post that criticized the state social equity licensing structure, which gives priority to entrepreneurs who have criminal cannabis convictions.
Polling has been mixed leading up to Election Day in New York, but generally Hochul has been found to be leading Zeldin, though one recent voter survey found Zeldin ahead by less than 1%.
Aside from New York, federal marijuana policy is arguably at stake, with control of both the U.S. House and Senate up for grabs on Tuesday.
Industry advocates in Washington, D.C., generally agree that if Republicans retake control of the Senate, for instance, the odds of anything cannabis-related getting through both chambers will be zero, given that GOP Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear he’s staunchly against changing marijuana policy.
There are also several races in which potential industry champions are on the ballot, such as the Senate race in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has emerged as one of the most high-profile candidates to back federal cannabis legalization.
Fetterman is running neck-and-neck with GOP candidate Mehmet Oz, according to polling analysis by the political website FiveThirtyEight, though Fetterman’s a slight favorite.
Fetterman is far from the only congressional candidate who’s made marijuana policy a campaign touchstone, though.
And the partisan balance of Congress could prove enough of a decisive factor for incremental reform, such as the SAFE Banking Act, which fall short of full legalization but are still major industry priorities, industry lobbyists told Green Market Report.
Other races industry insiders should keep an eye on include:
- Georgia, where Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is trying to fend off a challenge from Republican football star Herschel Walker. The race is considered one of a handful that could decide the balance of power in the Senate, and polling results have been mixed in recent weeks.
- Ohio, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan is vying against GOP businessman J.D. Vance for an open Senate seat. While this is another that could decide the Senate balance of power, it’s also a race between a cannabis ally, Ryan, who voted for federal marijuana legalization while in the House, and a conservative, Vance, who has said cannabis is “causing a host of social problems.” Vance has been leading Ryan in polls in recent weeks, but not by much.
- Wisconsin, where incumbent GOP Sen. Ron Johnson – who has only tepidly supported medical cannabis and not taken a firm position on recreational marijuana – is facing Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, who shares Fetterman’s enthusiasm for legalization. Johnson is leading Barnes in polls, but again, the race is a close one.