The integration of cannabis into the society will have far-reaching impacts - not as a result of people consuming it, but as a result of people understanding it. The emerging legitimate cannabis market and industry impacts the society, the culture, and the economy. As a writer, lobbyist, and policy wonk, Kate Cholewa offers a broad perspective for those both inside and outside the movement and industry.
The buzz beyond the buzz
The 2012 election will be the fourth election in a row where control of the Senate lies in just a handful of races. Currently, the Democrats control the U.S. Senate with 51 seats. Two seats are in the hands of Independents. Republicans hold 47. Republicans need to pick up just four Senate seats order to gain control of the U.S. Senate.
In Montana, in 2005, Democrat Jon Tester gained a seat in the Senate for the Democrats by beating out incumbent Republican Conrad Burns by a slim 3562 votes (199,845 votes versus 196,283). In 2012, Tester is being challenged by Republican Representative Denny Rehberg. By any list, Montana is again named as one of the key races in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate. National resources will be targeted to the Tester-Rehberg race because when it comes to investing in buying the Senate, fewer people to reach makes Montana a comparably cheap date.
But the 2012 elections have a new variable that wasn’t present when Tester and Burns faced off in 2006: The Cannabis Vote.
The 2011 legislature passed SB 423 which would have destroyed access to medical marijuana in Montana had a court not ruled to enjoin several key provisions based on their likely unconsitutionality. Last week, IR-124, which would repeal SB 423, qualified for the 2012 ballot. IR-124’s success means Montana can account for at least 35,000 registered voters unwilling to let the legislature undo medical marijuana access in Montana.
Compare that 35,000 to the 3,562 Tester beat Burns with in ‘06.
How many of those 35,000+ voters are willing to vote in the 2012 election as single-issue voters, willing to vote only for candidates good on the cannabis issue? What if for single-issue cannabis voters no good candidate equalled a withheld vote?
In other words, it may be that the cannabis vote in Montana has the power to determine the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in 2012.
So, what would it take for Rehberg or Tester to lay claim to this potentially tens of thousands of votes?
And these would just be the politically easy options.
Telling the feds to butt out is not a dangerous political position to take. It could be more challenging for Tester in that “the feds” are currently operating under the auspices of a Democratic administration. On the otherhand, Rehberg would need to buck his party position at the state level and it’s possible that Rehberg’s base includes the most rabid anti-cannabis forces in Montana. But are they rabid enough to walk away from voting Republican if Rehberg were to take a states’rights approach to defending Montana and our current effort to create good policy concerning the regulation of cannabis?
Tester probably has more to lose by ignoring the cannabis vote. But he also has more to gain by making a sensible stand.
Tens of thousands. It’s a lot of votes.