In addition to several marijuana initiatives (in Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah) on the Nov. 6 ballot, a number of Congressional and statewide races could result in pro-pot candidates knocking off drug warriors. Here are 11 to watch.
1. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) vs. Sen. Ted Cruz (R)
Beto O’Rourke is challenging incumbent right-winger Cruz. O’Rourke, who’s backed the legalization cause ever since he was on El Paso’s City Council, has repeatedly called for the end of “the U.S. government’s War on Drugs” and “the federal prohibition of marijuana.” An O’Rourke victory would help swing the Senate back to Democratic control. The congressman has the support of Willie Nelson, who he performed with on stage at the singer’s Fourth of July Picnic in Austin. It’s an expensive race with a total of $37 million ($23.7 million for O’Rourke) in the campaigns’ coffers. An Aug. 27 Emerson College poll called the race a “dead heat,” though most prognosticators say it’s “likely Republican.” In recent weeks, Cruz’s campaign has been pulling out all the stops, releasing O’Rourke’s mug shot from a 1998 DWI and longhaired photos from when he played bass in a punk-rock band.
2. Rep. Jared Polis (D) vs. Walker Stapleton (R)
In the Colorado gubernatorial race, four-term congressman Polis is hoping to succeed Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). Polis, who’s a longtime marijuana supporter and is also gay, won the June 26 Democratic primary with 45% of the vote against three opponents. “I’m proud to be the only candidate in this race that publicly supported the ballot measure to legalize marijuana (Amendment 64), and I have fought hard to declassify marijuana as a Schedule I drug in Congress,” he states at his campaign’s website. As governor, he’d be much more favorable to cannabis than the reluctant Hickenlooper. With nine times the campaign funding ($18.6 million) than his opponent, state treasurer Stapleton, and more overall support, Polis should become Colorado’s 37th governor.
3. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vs. John Cox (R)
In the California gubernatorial race, it’s likely that Newsom will succeed Jerry Brown (D). Newsom was a major backer of Prop 64, which legalized cannabis in the Golden State in 2016. “We believe the war on marijuana is a failure,” he states at his campaign website.
4. J. B. Pritzker (D) vs. Gov. Bruce Rauner (R)
Pritzker has never held office, but he has plenty of money to bankroll his Illinois gubernatorial race against the Republican incumbent. (Pritzker’s family owns the Hyatt hotel chain.) He won the primary with 45% of the vote against five opponents. “The path forward for Illinois is clear,” Pritzker states at his campaign website. “We need to legalize marijuana.” Gov. Rauner vetoed a decriminalization bill in 2015 before signing a watered-down version the following year. The two campaigns have raised more $200 million, $128 million of which is for Pritzker, who’s expected to win.
5. Ben Jealous (D) vs. Gov. Larry Hogan (R)
In the Maryland gubernatorial race, former NAACP executive director Jealous is attempting to unseat Republican incumbent Gov. Hogan. Jealous won the primary with 41% of the vote against seven opponents. At his campaign website, he calls for “legalizing marijuana for adult use and working to strengthen diversity requirements for licenses in the marijuana industry.” However, polls indicate Hogan will remain in the statehouse.
6. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vs. State Sen. Scott Wagner (R)
In the Pennsylvania gubernatorial race, Democratic incumbent Gov. Wolf seeks to stay in office. During his first term, he signed legislation that legalized the use and sale of medical marijuana. Polls show Wolf has a significant lead over State Sen. Wagner and should return to Harrisburg for a second term.
7. Mayor Andrew Gillum (D) vs. Ron DeSantis (R)
The mayor of Florida’s capitol city, Tallahassee, wants to run the state. He won a hard-fought Democratic primary on August 28 with just 34% of the vote. His opponent, former Congressman DeSantis, received 57% in the Republican primary. Both are hoping to succeed Gov. Rick Scott (R). Gillum, who’s African American, states at his campaign website that he “supports the legalization of marijuana in order to generate new revenue to pay for teacher and instructional staff pay increases and to reduce the mass incarceration of people with low-level drug offenses.” This highly contentious race – DeSantis is backed by Pres. Trump – is a toss up.
8. Janet Mills (D) vs. Shawn Moody (R)
Thankfully, Republican Gov. Paul LePage can’t run for another term as Maine’s governor. He alone has held up implementation of the Pine State’s marijuana legalization law passed in 2016. State attorney general Mills and Moody, a businessman, are in a tight race to take LePage’s place in Augusta. Mills favors legalization, but thinks Question 1 was a bad law. “You’ve got to do three things with cannabis,” she said at a candidates’ forum in Lewiston on Sept. 10. “Test it, track it and tax it.” At her website, Mills proposes 10 “things to do” about the opioid crisis. “We must do more than just say no,” she says. Both candidates have raised around $1 million.
9. Liz Watson (D) vs. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth (R)
In Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, Watson is challenging the Republican incumbent, who was elected in 2016. She won the primary with two-thirds of the vote. “I’m a strong supporter of removing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act,” Watson states at her campaign website. “This step is important to stemming the tide of over-incarceration, especially of people of color.” Both candidates have raised about $1 million for this important race.
10. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) vs. Anthony Pappas (R)
In New York’s 14th Congressional District, newcomer Ocasio-Cortez upset 10-term incumbent Rep. Joseph Crowley (D) in the June 26 primary with 57% of the vote. She’ll most likely defeat her Republican opponent in the race in her heavily Democrat district. In addition to supporting “federal legalization of marijuana,” she wants to close “for-profit prisons and detention centers,” end cash bail and release “individuals incarcerated for nonviolent offenses.” Ocasio-Cortez is a leader in the Democrats’ progressive blue wave.
11. David Trone (D) vs. Amie Hoeber (R)
In Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, Trone, a businessman, is attempting to succeed fellow Democrat and three-term congressman John Delaney. Trone won the primary with 41% of the vote against seven opponents. Though he doesn’t mention marijuana at his campaign website, Trone refers to the “failed War on Drugs” and calls for the repeal of “mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.” His opponent in the race, Hoeber, is a defense consultant.
Also on the Nov. 6 Ballot
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