The Political Landscape in 2018

No matter how the 2018 midterm elections turnout, Congress will look very different on January 1, 2019. Between the House and the Senate, fifty-six members (and counting) have announced they are not seeking reelection due to resignation, retirement, ethics issues, or seeking higher office. While neither party is predicted to pick up all of the available seats, the 116th Congress will have over four dozen individuals who have never voted on federal cannabis policy. The 2018 midterm elections have the possibility to permanently change the federal government's stance on medical cannabis.

Cannabis policy will also have an important role on state level politics. Utah, Missouri, and some counties in Wisconsin will have medical cannabis on the ballot in November. Michigan will have an adult use initiative on the ballot, which may mean new rules and regulations for patients and patient access. Many gubernatorial candidates, like those in Maryland, and other state office holders have made cannabis policy central components of their campaign.

Changes in the Senate

Retirements and Resignations

Since the beginning of the 115th Congress, seven senators have either announced their retirement, resigned, or passed away while in office.

Alabama

Jeff Sessions gave up his senate seat to become President Trump’s Attorney General. While AG Sessions hasn’t been a friend of medical cannabis, his seat was ultimately filled by Democrat Doug Jones in a special election. Doug Jones will hold onto his senate seat until 2020.

Arizona

In October of 2017, Senator Jeff Flake announced that he would not be seeking reelection. The Arizona primary is on August 28 to determine who will be the most likely to run for his seat. Arizona has had a medical cannabis program since 2011 and Senator Flake recently signed on to the STATES Act as a cosponsor which allows states to set their own cannabis policies. Once the Arizona primary occurs, ASA will update this section with which candidate (if any) supports medical cannabis.

Senator John McCain passed away on August 25, 2018 after an ongoing battle with brain cancer. Former Senator Jon Kyl (R) was appointed his successor by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey to serve the duration of McCain’s term ending in 2020.

Minnesota

Minnesota Senator Al Franken resigned after sexual misconduct allegations and was replaced by Tina Smith. Senator Smith has not really made her position on medical cannabis clear (ASA reached out to her office for comment, but have not yet received a response). Senator Smith is up for re-election in November. She is being challenged by Sarah Wellington, a woman who helped inaugurate the 2014 Minnesota Medical Cannabis program, as third party of the Legal Marijuana Now Party.

Mississippi

On April 1, 2018, Thad Cochran resigned and was replaced by Cindy Hyde-Smith. Senator Hyde-Smith will be a candidate in a November 6 special election to serve the remainder of Thad Cochran's term, which was scheduled to end in 2020. Senator Hyde-Smith has yet to make her position clear on medical cannabis (ASA has reached out to her office for comment but has received no response).

Tennessee

Senator Bob Corker announced his retirement on September 26, 2017. Representative Marsha Blackburn (TN-7) voted against the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment in 2014, and in this year’s voter scorecard received an “F”. The other main challenger to replace Senator Corker is Democrat Phil Bredesen who, in an interview with the Tennessee Tribune, indicated that “the federal government should give states the rights to make [medical cannabis] decisions and not step into that.”

Utah

With Senator Orrin Hatch retiring, Mitt Romney looks poised to take the Utah Senate seat in November. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Mitt Romney is supportive of Proposition 2, the Medical Cannabis Ballot Initiative. (You can view his remarks about the issue at a debate in May 2018 here). Curiously, Romney does seem to support a model where physicians are prescribing medical cannabis and this prescription is filled by a pharmacy, but due to federal restrictions, this model is currently impossible to create.

With Proposition 2 likely to pass, Utah’s next Senate candidate will have to answer to voters and constituents who are supportive of medical cannabis.

Seats Up For Grabs

In addition to the resignations and retirements that occurred in the Senate during the 115th Congress, 33 Senate seats will also be up for grabs. States with medical cannabis that are considered a toss-up (meaning that it is possible that either party could win the Senate seat) include Nevada, West Virginia, Florida, and North Dakota. Many political pundits also consider Missouri and Indiana toss up states, but neither of these states have comprehensive medical programs yet.

Senate Committee Musical Chairs

With each new Congress, there is an opportunity for new members to take over key committees. In the Senate, the committees that are most important to medical cannabis legislation are the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Rules Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

If Republicans maintain control of the Senate, Senator Mitch McConnell will remain the Majority Leader. Additionally, committee chairs for the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary Committee, the Rules Committee, the Veterans Affairs Committee, and the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee are unlikely to change.

If Democrats win Senator Chuck Schumer will become the Majority Leader, Senator Patrick Leahy will likely take over the top spot in the Appropriations committee and, Dianne Feinstein (if re-elected) will likely take the top spot on the Judiciary Committee.

Judiciary

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) seems likely to relinquish his chairman position of the Judiciary Committee to serve as the chair of the Finance Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee has never held a hearing on medical cannabis legislation and has yet to pass anything out of committee. New leadership for the committee could bring a welcome change and opportunity to have hearings on bills like the CARERS Act or the STATES Act. If Senator Grassley moves to the Finance Committee, it is likely that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) will take over as the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. This could be very positive for medical cannabis patients, because Senator Graham is the only Senator to have chaired a hearing about medical cannabis’ benefits rather than perceived dangers, and was a cosponsor of a previous version of the CARERS Act. You can read more about Senator Graham’s evolution on cannabis here.

If Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wins her reelection, she will likely remain the top Democrat on the committee. While Senator Feinstein has recently been more supportive of medical cannabis legislation, she has had a long history of blocking any meaningful policy reform along with Senator Grassley.

Changes in the House

Unlike the Senate, where terms last six years, Representatives are elected every two years - which means that every single member of the House of Representatives is up for reelection this year. Even if every incumbent Representative wins their seat, there will still be over 50 new faces elected to Congress. With 435 races, it is difficult to go in depth on each candidate but the list below shows which incumbents are leaving and for what reason.

House Resignations and Retirements

House Members who have left during the 115th Congress

Member

District

Reason for Leaving

ASA Grade

Lynn Jenkins

KS-2

Retiring

F

Tom Price

(seat won by Karen Handel)

GA-6

Joined Administration as HHS Secretary

F(2016 Grade)

Mick Mulvaney

(Seat won by Ralph Norman)

SC-5

Joined Administration as OMB Director

A+ (2016 Grade)

Ryan Zinke

(Seat won by Greg Gianforte)

MT-At Large

Joined Administration as Interior Secretary

B- (2016 Grade)

Jim Renacci

OH-16

Running for Senate

F

Tim Walz

MN-1

Running for Governor

C-

Beto O’Rourke

TX-16

Running for Senate

B

Jason Chaffetz

(Seat won by John Curtis)

UT-3

Resigned

B+ (2016 Grade)

Illeana Ros-Lehtinen

FL-27

Retiring

D+

Evan Jenkins

WV-3

Running for State Supreme Court

F

Raul Labrador

ID-1

Running for Governor

C-

Jared Polis

CO-2

Running for Governor

A

Jacky Rosen

NV-3

Running for Senate

C-

Steve Pearce

NM-2

Running for Governor

F

Luke Messer

IN-6

Defeated in Senate Primary

F

John Delaney

MD-6

Announced Presidential Bid for 2020

C-

John Duncan Jr.

TN-2

Retiring

D

Todd Rokita

IN-4

Defeated in Senate Primary

F

Nikki Tsongas

MA-3

Retiring

C-

Lou Barletta

PA-11

Running for Senate

F

Dave Reichert

WA-8

Retiring

F

Charlie Dent

PA-15

Resigned

F

Dave Trott

MI-11

Retiring

F

Krysten Sinema

AZ-9

Running for Senate

C

Tim Murphy

(Seat won by Conor Lamb-D)

PA-18

Resigned

F

Marsha Blackburn

TN-7

Running for Senate

F

Carol Shea Porter

NH-1

Retiring

F

Pat Tiberi

OH-12

Resigned

F

Jeb Hensarling

TX-5

Retiring

F

Lamar Smith

TX-21

Retiring

F

Ted Poe

TX-2

Retiring

F

Frank LoBiondo

NJ-2

Retiring

C-

Bob Goodlatte

VA-6

Retiring

F

Gene Green

TX-29

Retiring

C-

Luis Gutierrez

IL-4

Retiring

D

Joe Barton

TX-6

Retiring

F

Sandy Levin

MI-9

Retiring

F

John Conyers

MI-13

Resigned

A+ (2016 Grade)

Trent Franks

(seat won by Debbie Lesko)

AZ-8

Resigned

F (2016 Grade)

Ruben Kihuen

NV-4

Retiring

F

Bill Shuster

PA-9

Retiring

F

Gregg Harper

MS-3

Retiring

F

Ed Royce

CA-39

Retiring

F

Darrell Issa

CA-49

Retiring

F

Rodney Frelinghuysen

NJ-11

Retiring

F

Robert Brady

PA-1

Retiring

C-

Trey Gowdy

SC-4

Retiring

F

Rick Nolan

MN-8

Retiring

C

Tom Rooney

FL-17

Retiring

F

Louise Slaughter

NY-25

Deceased

B+ (2016 Grade)

Ryan Costello

PA-6

Retiring

B-

Blake Farenthold

(seat one by Michael Cloud)

TX-27

Resigned

D+ (2016 Grade)

Paul Ryan

WI-1

Retiring

F

Dennis Ross

FL-15

Retiring

F

Jim Bridenstine

OK-1

NASA Administrator

F

Pat Meehan

PA-7

Resigned

F

Robert Pittenger

NC-9

Defeated in Primary

F

Tom Garrett

VA-5

Retiring

D

Keith Ellison

MN-5

Running for MN Attorney General

D

Mark Sanford

SC-1

Defeated in Primary

C+

Joe Crowley

NY-14

Defeated in Primary

D+

Chris Collins

NY-27

Suspended Campaign

C-

Duncan Hunter*

CA-50

Indicted

A-

House Musical Chairs

Much like the Senate, the House is likely to see considerable shuffling of the Committee Chairs that oversee medical cannabis legislation including the Appropriations, Judiciary, Veterans Affairs, and Rules Committees.

Leadership

Aside from over 50 new members, perhaps the most significant change coming to the House of Representatives is that there will be a new Speaker of the House. With Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) retiring, the spot will be open for for someone who may be more amenable to scheduling votes for medical cannabis legislation. Currently, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has been floated. While his record on medical cannabis is not perfect, it is far better than Rep. Ryan’s.

Judiciary

Current House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is retiring. Much like his counterpart in the Senate (Chuck Grassley), Rep. Goodlatte has not held a single hearing on medical cannabis legislation. While it is not always the case, seniority on a committee can play a significant role in who becomes the chair. If the Republicans maintain control of the House, it is likely that Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH) will make a run to become committee chair. Unfortunately, Rep. Chabot voted against the CJS amendment in 2014, but his vote occurred before Ohio passed their medical cannabis law.

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) is expected to stay the top Democrat on the Judiciary committee.

Appropriations

The one committee where medical cannabis legislation has had some success is the House Appropriations Committee. This committee has overseen the debate about the CJS medical cannabis amendment, and most recently approved a bill with the medical cannabis language in it. While Committee Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ)was not a supporter of medical cannabis (he voted twice against providing veterans access to medical cannabis and blocked a vote preventing cannabis businesses from accessing banking), he was not a very vocal opponent. Under his leadership, Representative Dave Joyce (R-OH) was able to include the medical cannabis language.

If Republicans maintain control of the House of Representatives, possible successors for Frelinghuysen's seat include Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), and Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). Any of these three representatives could mean stricter rules for medical cannabis amendments during the appropriations process.

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) is expected to remain the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.

Veterans Affairs

Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) is likely to remain the top Republican on the Veterans Affairs Committee. Roe recently joined Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) in introducing the VA Medical Cannabis Research Act of 2018 (H.R. 5520). Rep. Walz is leaving his post to run for governor of Minnesota, but he would likely be replaced by a fellow medical cannabis supporter, Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA).

Rules

If the Republican party maintains control of the House, it is possible that strict cannabis opponent Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) will maintain his position as chair of the Rules Committee. Rep. Sessions has become notorious for blocking any and all amendments related to cannabis and has become a tough obstacle to cannabis reform.

Races to Watch

California 48th District

Longtime champion of medical cannabis Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R) is facing a challenge from Democrat Harley Rouda. Recent polling shows that Rohrabacher and Rouda are practically even for the race. Rep. Rohrabacher has led many efforts to protect medical cannabis including being the lead sponsor on the CJS medical cannabis amendment for many years.

Pennsylvania’s 12th District

Democrat Marc Friedenberg is running for a seat currently held by Rep. Tom Marino (R). Tom Marino had been briefly proposed as the head of the National Office of Drug Control Policy, however he withdrew his nomination after it was revealed that he had been the chief individual behind a bill that protected pharmaceutical manufacturers and hindered the DEA’s ability to combat the opioid crisis.

On the other hand, Friedenberg has been a vocal supporter of medical cannabis and the cannabis industry, particularly of the dispensaries located in his district. On September 8th, Friedenberg is hosting a town hall about the opioid crisis to solicit ideas about how to manage the ongoing epidemic.

West Virginia's 3rd District

ASA’s 2018 Elected Official of the Year, state Senator Richard Ojeda, is making waves in West Virginia. Senator Ojeda is a combat veteran, and one of the nation's leading advocates for access to medical cannabis. West Virginia’s 3rd district overwhelmingly voted for President Trump in 2016, so as a Democrat, Ojeda has an uphill battle. However, he is keeping polls close by putting West Virginians above politics.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner

While it may not seem like a position of significance, the race has gotten national attention because candidate Nikki Fried (D) had her Wells Fargo bank account closed due to her ties to the medical cannabis industry. Part of her campaign platform includes expanding Florida’s medical cannabis program, and before entering politics, she ran a lobbying firm that sought to expand access to medical cannabis. You can read more about here platform and campaign here.