Marijuana Users in Red States Might Be Getting Some Good News Soon

(Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press via AP)

Conservative states are finally moving closer to the legalization of marijuana. As more states pass legislation decriminalizing or fully legalizing the plant for recreational use, red states have been the primary holdouts.

However, recent indications suggest that attitudes toward pot are softening among conservative Americans and Republican politicians. According to a Politico report published on Sunday:

Medical marijuana bills are advancing in the Republican-controlled legislatures of North Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas for the first time. Efforts to expand limited medical programs in bedrock conservative states like Texas and Louisiana also appear close to passage.

Heather Fazio, a Texas-based pro-marijuana advocate, said:

Medical cannabis is where we see the most common ground between Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

Lawmakers in the Lone Star State are considering a significant expansion of their medical marijuana program.

Politico noted:

Cannabis is already available to more than 230 million Americans for medical use and, according to an April survey by Pew Research, 91 percent of residents believe marijuana should be legal for that purpose. Even in states without a medical program like North Carolina and South Carolina, recent polls have shown support topping 70 percent.

While more states are becoming more open to legalizing pot, at least for medicinal use, there are hardliners still fighting the trend. “Every state that does not already have a medical marijuana law had something introduced” this year according to Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. She added: “Most of them have died.”

North Carolina, Alabama, and Kansas are still maintaining the prohibition of marijuana, even for medical use. However, efforts are underway in each of these states to push for medicinal marijuana use.

In North Carolina, Garrett Perdue, head of the pro-legalization group NC Cann, noted that they are receiving significant support from some Republican lawmakers, including state Sen. Bill Rabon who introduced legislation that would allow physicians to prescribe patients with “debilitating medical conditions” to use marijuana. This would include individuals suffering from cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma.

Perdue said:

If we’d had this conversation two weeks ago … I would have told you that I thought cannabis legislation of any form in North Carolina was three years away….The issue has the right champion, and that’s the only difference.

In Alabama, the House passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana use 68-34. The Senate approved the bill in February but recently approved changes made by members of the House. The measure is ready for Republican Gov. Kay Ivey to sign, but she has not yet indicated whether she will make the bill into law. A spokesperson said that she “looked forward to thoroughly reviewing” the proposal.

Kansas is also getting closer to legalizing medical marijuana. The state House voted 79-42 last Thursday to allow medicinal use of pot. However, it seems unlikely that the state Senate will consider the bill as it is in the final days of its session. Still, the bill was sent to committee in the Senate and will be picked up again next January.

“Kansans are tired of waiting on Kansas being last, or falling behind other states on major issues such as this. And it’s time we end that and we show our people that Kansas can do it better,” said Republican Rep. Adam Thomas.

Texas is poised to drastically expand its medical marijuana program. The House passed a bill sponsored by GOP state Rep. Stephanie Klick to ease restrictions on those using pot for medical purposes. Politico reported:

Texas is home to a restrictive medical cannabis program, allowing only patients with intractable epilepsy to access cannabis products, which must contain less than 0.5 percent THC.

The latest bill would raise the THC cap to 5 percent and expand the list of qualifying conditions, including multiple sclerosis, autism and PTSD.

Louisiana is also prepared to expand its medical program to include flower products. The proposed legislation has already been passed in the House by a 73-26 vote. However, like Kansas, it is not clear whether the Senate will also pass the bill. However, Politico noted that there is at least one indication that the vote might be favorable to marijuana users:

The powerful Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, which is adamantly opposed to recreational legalization, hasn’t come out against the medical flower bill.

Despite the progress being made for the legalization of marijuana, there are some states in which the anti-pot crowd is successfully blocking efforts to make the flower available for medical and recreational use. These include Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Nebraska.

In Wyoming and Idaho, high signature thresholds to get pro-marijuana measures on the ballot might prove to be a challenge for grassroots efforts (pun intended) to succeed in putting the matter to a vote. Still, it seems inevitable that marijuana will be legal in most, if not all, states eventually.

A Pew Research poll released in April revealed that 91% of American adults believe the plant should be legal, at least for medical use. About 60% think it should be allowed for both medical and recreational use. Only 10% believed it should be prohibited altogether.

As opinions on marijuana continue to change, it is doubtful that prohibitions on the plant will survive. It seems that Americans on both sides of the political divide agree on at least one thing: The government should not be able to dictate what people put in their own bodies – at least when it comes to the chronic.