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One Out of Four US Senators Is a Marijuana Prohibitionist -- Is Yours One of Them?

Submitted by David Borden on (Issue #931)
Consequences of Prohibition
Politics & Advocacy

This article was produced in collaboration with AlterNet and first appeared here.

Marijuana legalization now consistently scores majorities in national public opinion polls, marijuana is already legal in four states and the District of Columbia and likely to be legal in a handful more, including California, before year's end, and the Obama administration has effectively thrown federal pot prohibition to the wind in the legal (and medical marijuana) states, yet Congress remains to a large degree stuck in the last century when it comes to marijuana policy.

Granted, there are some small signs of progress, some nibbling around the edges of pot prohibition, through bills and spending amendments that seek to stop the feds from interfering in legal and medical marijuana states, but Bernie Sanders' bill to end federal marijuana prohibition doesn't sport even a single cosponsor. When it comes to fixing marijuana policy, Congress is going to have to be dragged crying and screaming into the 21st Century.

One reason is a sizeable contingent of senatorial prohibitionists. According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), which just released its 2016 Congressional Scorecard, more than a quarter of US senators received a failing grade when it comes to supporting progressive marijuana policy reforms. A failing grade indicates "that this member expresses significant and vocal opposition to marijuana law reform."

The marijuana consumers' lobbying group arrived at the grades based on the member's 2015 voting records on three amendments to appropriations bills: the Daines/Merkley amendment (would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal), the Mikulski amendment (would block the Justice Department from interfering in state medical marijuana programs), and the Merkley amendment (would have blocked the Treasury Department from punishing banks providing services to legal marijuana businesses).

NORML also weighed whether the member has sponsored or cosponsored federal marijuana reform bills, and his or her public statements or testimony. Legislators were assigned letter grades ranging from "A" to "F."

Before going on to NORML's hall of shame, it's worth taking a moment to salute the class valedictorians: Only two senators got "A" grades -- Sanders and Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, author or co-author of two of the amendments, who also supported the successful 2014 Oregon legalization initiative and has sponsored and cosponsored other progressive marijuana reform bills.

Merkley is the only one of the eight senators representing states where the electorate has already voted to legalize marijuana to earn an "A" grade. The other legalization state senators at least mostly earned "B" grades ("this member has publicly declared his/her support for the ability of a state to move forward with cannabis law reform policies free from federal interference"), demonstrating that they are at least that in tune with their publics.

The good news is that with two senators winning "A" grades, 28 earning a "B," and 28 managing a "C" (supports medical marijuana or decriminalization), there seems to be a senatorial majority in favor of some pot reform legislation, even if not full legalization.

But there is still a sizeable and obstinate anti-marijuana minority, with 20 senators saddled with a "D" grade ("no support for any significant marijuana law reform"), and 26 ingloriously awarded the big "F."

Not surprisingly, 22 of them are Republicans, mostly from that great, L-shaped mass of red states that runs from North Dakota down to Texas and then across the South. But four of them are Democrats.

Without any further ado, here's the list of the Senate's most intransigent and recalcitrant pot prohibitionists (click on the scorecard for the individual particulars):

  • Sen. Jeff Sessions
  • Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL)
  • Sen. John Boozman (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR)
  • Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
  • Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID)
  • Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL)
  • Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN)
  • Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA)
  • Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • Sen. David Vitter (R-LA)
  • Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)
  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH)
  • Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK)
  • Sen. James Lankford (R-OK)
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC)
  • Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD)
  • Sen. John Thune (R-SD)
  • Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-TX)
  • Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Sen. John Barasso (R-WY)
Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Mr. Herb (not verified)

The Only Right Way to Legalize Marijuana in America

The legalization of marijuana is now at hand and we must be very careful how we proceed.  The first thing we must do is to offer an accurate perspective on prohibition so we do not make the same mistakes again.  Let’s all take two large steps back and look at the big picture.  In the late 20’s and 30’s,  several states had passed anti-marijuana laws but proponents of marijuana prohibition were trying to get federal prohibition enacted.  Two of the most powerful prohibitionists were William Randolph Hearst and Ed DuPont.  Hearst was growing pine trees to sell to his newspaper empire as pulp wood and he certainly did not want to compete with hemp fibers.  DuPont received a patent in 1929 to produce nylon fibers from oil and of course he had no use for hemp either.  As their plan progressed, prohibitionists raised fears that black New Orleans jazz musicians would smoke marijuana and rape white women.  The three foundational points on which marijuana prohibition rests are excessive corporate influence in government, governmental corruption and racism.  These are the same major problems we are dealing with today in America and marijuana prohibition is making them worse.  It never had anything to do with drugs: it was always about hemp.    

The next point that needs to be faced is that tobacco and alcohol are the two most dangerous drugs in American society.  Together, they kill over half a million people in this country every year and nobody cares.  Though marijuana has never been responsible for a single death, we arrest nearly 800,000 people annually for marijuana offenses, and we have been doing so for years.  It has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry and it does not keep drugs away from anyone.  In the seventy five years since the Marijuana Tax Stamp Act of 1937 was enacted, trillions of dollars of after tax income have been systemically extorted from the American people and given to Mexican drug cartels and other terrorists who use this money to do harm to America.  The lives of millions of American citizens have been damaged or destroyed by the enforcement of laws that should not exist: laws that were enacted by a bought and paid for government that shouldn’t exist either. 

There is a movement in America to legalize marijuana and tax it like alcohol.  I am opposed to this for purely financial reasons.  Just look at the price gouging that is going on in Colorado today.  I have seen the US marijuana market estimated at $130 billion annually.  If we legalize marijuana and tax it we will just be shifting the profits from the Mexican drug cartels to the Wall Street banksters while the consumers will still be paying black market prices for something we can grow for ourselves for free.  Consumers won’t be criminals anymore and that is a step in the right direction but we can do better if we get politics and profits completely out of it.  Marijuana consumers in America have had their brains rapped out by the black market for seventy-five years: enough is enough!

The only right way to legalize marijuana is simple.  Anyone in America who has a legal right to buy and consume deadly tobacco and alcohol must have the same legal right to grow and consume marijuana in any quantity without fear of prosecution or persecution by anyone.  This includes employers or perspective employers with a urine specimen cup in their hand.  All of this is contingent on marijuana users being responsible for themselves at all times, and they are doing that now so I don’t see this as a problem.  With this plan in place toward marijuana users, we can forget about marijuana.  The black market for marijuana in America will be closed for ever: no one can compete with free.  With the money that consumers will save plus the savings from fighting criminal prosecution the little people will have about $200 billion a year in their pockets to spend on goods and services on the open market.  This will stimulate the economy from the bottom up and help the people at the bottom of the food chain first.    

Now we can start thinking about hemp, which is where the real money is.  We need to get the nation’s farmers growing as much hemp as possible.  It sits there in the field all summer sucking CO2 out of the air and producing more oxygen than any other plant of comparable size.  At the end of the season, we can make ethanol from the leaves, which will allow us to feed the nation’s corn supply to cattle thus producing beef that poor people can afford again.  The stalks produce the strongest natural fiber known.  Every plastic product we can replace with a hemp product will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and the hemp product will break down in the land fill in a fraction of the time as their plastic predecessors.  The seeds are very high in amino acids, which are very nutritious and this is what we know about the plant now.  Bear in mind, it is illegal for the research scientists to possess it too.  We could create a whole new industry and millions of good paying jobs.

            All of these are good reasons to legalize marijuana but the most important reason is freedom.  We must face the reality that the United States government isn’t waging war on marijuana.  They are waging war on the American people.  In a war, the opposing forces are referred to as enemies.  Any legislative body that passes an appropriations bill to fund the so called “war on marijuana” is giving aid and comfort to America’s enemies.  The U. S. Constitution defines the giving of aid and comfort to America’s enemies as treason.  So this is not about people being high: it is about people being free.  No nation is free so long as its government wages war on its citizens.  When marijuana is free, America will be free.   


Sat, 06/18/2016 - 3:25am Permalink
Leslie (not verified)

In reply to by Mr. Herb (not verified)

I agree with out 100%. The only way to defeat Congress is to replace our foes. Elections should publicize where the candidates stand on this issue and the hemp argument is nowhere in media. I urge citizens, average citizens, to run for office. The idea of America never involved career politicians. Term limits must be imposed. If your current representative does not support the majority of it's populace, they have no place in government. Our constitution is clear regarding the freedom of it's citizens. Hemp and cannabis should have never been made illegal but it is going to be hard to convince people who have been brainwashed by people who benefit from prohibition that it is not harmful. Research is the key hear but publicity is required and those who speak against hemp and cannabis are not being challenged. We are complacent. It will take concerted effort by proponents speaking publicly about history, prohibition and the detrimental affects of pharmaceuticals as well, for the change to gain momentum. Praying and  hoping won't get us to the 'promised land'. We are talking about our right when we should be talking about our freedom.

Sun, 06/19/2016 - 3:06pm Permalink
Remmy "CJ" Skye (not verified)

"when marijuana is free, America will be free." no, i'm pretty sure I wont be free, ill still be battling homelessness, trying to avoid AIDS, hep C (might be too late for that one), homo and hetero street prostitution, various illness, the police, insane prejudice etc. etc. but when heroin is free, I know yes, I will be free then mice elf.


but its brilliant success, the marijuana majority no doubt... i would like to say that when I say marijuana majority, i personally am NOT refereeing to any prohibitionist agenda, I was using the term marijuana majority for years before it became something in the main stream press, when I first got into drug reform years ago marijuana majority was a term I used to refer to the people who claimed to be drug reformists but whom actually were just pot reformists, horrified at other drugs and drug users and quick to jump on any "legalize pot, keep everything else illegal" bandwagon. i know when i first came around, some websites didnt distinguish, i know my comments in one particular popular place caused the webmaster, a great gentleman, to issue a statement endorsing DRUG REFORM not just marijuana reform, even at the expense of website regulars who would no longer patronize the place after that. I love that guy. hes a great guy. his site is a great place with some of the best reformer minds ive ever had the pleasure to speak with.


nevertheless, i just wanna say, when I came into reform, marijuana it wasnt that long ago, but its been more than a few years now, but it was about 2 years before that first gallup pol showed a majority support for marijuana. pot was still hardcore prohib. it has been an amazing thing to watch, to see how far its come now, when I first got into reform I never thought Id see the day colorado and washington legalized. It had been about 4 years i think, maybe 5 maybe even 6 i cant remember anymore, after I got into reform that that stuff happened in Colorado, in fact, I clipped the DPA's NY Times ad congratulating the world on prohibition of pot ending, i clipped that out and put it in an old bedroom wall, it still is there to this day. Its truly an amazing thing to have seen on a day by day basis and I must say that the people here in this site and all the others have a huge huge huge role in it and deserve to congratulate themselves while remaining steadfast to finish the job of pot legalization, which i believe is close at hand... its been incredible to see.


i hope my DoC gets its day in the sun as well one day... because the human price being paid, its... horrible.

Sat, 06/18/2016 - 8:43am Permalink

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