All across the political sphere, eyes were on the March 13th special election to determine who would replace disgraced Congressman Tim Murphy and represent Pennsylvania’s 18th district, the Democratic candidate Conor Lamb or Republican state legislator Rick Saccone. Voters in this district favored Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016 by 20 percentage points and the GOP’s Murphy actually ran unopposed his previous two re-elections, making this district an uphill climb for any Democrat, including a moderate like Lamb, even in a Democratic election-year dubbed by some as “the Blue Wave.”
Despite a raucous rally by Donald Trump, where he called for the execution of drug dealers, in the district just a few days before the election, Conor Lamb looks to be victorious by just 627 votes. While most pundits are calling this a rebuke of Trump’s presidency, and they are mostly correct, just about every talking head is ignoring one key policy difference that very well could have made up those 627 votes–medical marijuana.
Rick Saccone voted against Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis law as a state legislator, while Conor Lamb has been on the record as supporting medicinal marijuana. The Keystone State has a very conservative medical program, prohibiting any home cultivation and any flower at all for that matter. Qualified patients may purchase cannabis oils from a limited number of regulated dispensaries. (A bit of a digression: with only a handful of dispensaries currently open, prices are pretty prohibitive, particularly for patients on a fixed income. Hopefully, those prices come down some as more dispensaries open up. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in states like Oregon, with very low wholesale cannabis prices, the regulatory costs associated with producing cannabis oils, along with that insane federal 280E tax provision, can still push the price too high for many low-income patients.)
Medical cannabis is an extremely popular policy that cuts across political demographics and the partisan divide. In fact, not many hot-button topics receive such strong support, regardless of political party. With over 60% support for ending prohibition for all adults, it’s hard to find any new national polling even asking about medical use. A whopping 88% of Pennsylvania voters supported medical cannabis back in 2015. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an issue that comes before Congress where 88% of Keystone voters agree with one another. Rick Saccone proved to be way out of the mainstream on medical cannabis, while Lamb sensibly agrees with the super-majority of Pennsylvanians and Americans that know that doctors and patients should be making decisions on medicinal use, not politicians and law enforcement officers.
During a political debate, Rick Saccone made a crucial blunder, when he was asked about whether Congress should vote to legalize recreational marijuana. Saccone, for some reason, reminded voters that he opposed Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana law. Conor Lamb wisely stated, “I support medical marijuana as it exists right now as long as its carefully done and well-regulated. Too many doctors have told me that their patients need it. Too many parents have told me that it’s the cheapest and best treatment for their kids, especially kids who have seizures, so I think that’s where we start. People on both sides seem to agree on that. That’s a good way to take care of our people and I’m for it.” I’ve created a clip on C-Span where you can watch this exchange on cannabis policy.
In a race decided by just over 600 votes, being on the wrong side of an issue favored by over 80% of your state’s residents could certainly be one of the reasons that you lost. When you throw in the fact that the Libertarian candidate, who would usually be expected to siphon more votes away from the GOP candidate, as Libertarians are often caricatured as “pot-smoking Republicans,” garnered 1,372 votes himself, Saccone may have just cost himself a congressional seat by opposing medical cannabis. Let this be a lesson to candidates all across the nation (looking at you Joe Kennedy!), it is time to be on the right side of history on cannabis policy, or you’ll eventually pay the political consequences. While 2018 looks to be the year of the #BlueWave, the Green Wave is here to stay.
The Let’s Hash It Out podcast was ahead of the mainstream media, calling the election for Conor Lamb, and stating that medical cannabis may have played a role in the political upset. You can check out all of our podcasts here on Weed News, as well as SoundCloud, and iTunes. You can also join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.