Kyle Jaeger, 12-14-2020
Two Georgia runoff elections for U.S. Senate seats being held next month will decide which party controls the chamber—and that will have significant implications for marijuana policy in the 117th Congress.
Democratic wins for both positions would mean that the party would reclaim command over the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris serving as a tiebreaker. Both of the Democratic candidates vying for those seats are in favor of cannabis and drug policy reform. If Republicans keep the majority by winning at least one of the Georgia seats, meanwhile, the prospects of ending federal marijuana prohibition would be dimmed for at least the next two years.
That’s not because GOP voters oppose enacting the policy change. In fact, 51 percent of Republicans said in a recent poll that they favor a House-passed bill to federally legalize marijuana. But current leadership in the Senate has given no signal that they would take up, let alone prioritize, cannabis reform. Figures like Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who holds staunchly anti-marijuana views, would likely be reinstalled next year if the party keeps control.
What all of that means is that the January 5 runoffs will likely decide the fate of federal cannabis policy, at least until the 2022 midterm elections. For voters who care about marijuana issues in the state, which went to President-elect Joe Biden in a historic flip, there’s a lot at stake.
Here’s where each of the Georgia Senate candidates stand on cannabis, followed by some broader analysis:
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-GA)
The senator, who joined Congress earlier this year after being appointed by the state’s governor to fill a vacancy, earned an F grade on her cannabis platform from the advocacy group NORML.
Loeffler said that while she understands “some of the arguments in favor of ending the federal prohibition of marijuana and am aware that there are potential medical applications,” she is “concerned about the negative effects that legalizing marijuana would have on communities, families, and our nation’s youth.”
She also pointed to an advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General cautioning against cannabis use by adolescents and pregnant women.
“Any efforts by Congress to legalize this substance must be taken seriously and with the common goal in mind to prevent Americans from becoming dependent on drugs,” she said, according to NORML.
Loeffler said in an American Family Association survey that she “strongly disagrees” with the legalization of marijuana.
The senator has also been dismissive of recent congressional efforts to reform marijuana laws. For example, she criticized House Democrats for including language in a coronavirus relief bill that would protect banks that service state-legal cannabis businesses from being penalized by federal regulators.
She also joined the chorus of Republicans who chastised Democrats for holding a vote on a bill to federally legalize marijuana this month. That legislation was approved.
Loeffler has not cosponsored any cannabis reform bills during her time in the Senate.
Democrat Rev. Raphael Warnock
The reverend has frequently discussed the failures of the war on drugs and supports marijuana reform.
“Marijuana is seen as an illegal substance,” he said in one sermon. “It’s a terrible irony and we feel it, that right now in America there are some folks who are becoming billionaires for selling the same stuff that’s got our children locked up all across America.”
“Where is the justice?” he asked “It’s not enough to decriminalize marijuana. Somebody’s gotta open up the jails and let our children go.”
Loeffler, who Warnock is running to unseat, attempted to criticize him for those remarks by falsely claiming in a debate this month that he wanted to broadly empty prisons and wouldn’t keep communities safe.