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U.S Senate Race in Nevada: Where Dean Heller and Jacky Rosen Stand on Marijuana Legalization

Cannabis legalization is of particular importance to many voters in Nevada.

Marijuana is a key issue in Nevada’s U.S. Senate Race, where Democratic Congresswoman Jacky Rosen (NV-03) and incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller are currently neck and neck.

Two years ago, Nevada voters approved a ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana and since then the market has surged to more than $500 million. In this year’s election, voters will select a Senator that will likely vote on important legislation related to the future of marijuana legalization under federal law.

Here’s a look at where Heller and Rosen stand on marijuana legalization.

Dean Heller (R)

  • Recreational Marijuana Legalization: Unknown
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization: Supports the right of states to make their own decisions about medical marijuana

Since becoming a U.S. Senator by appointment in 2011, Dean Heller has remained relatively passive on cannabis legalization efforts. He has yet to vote on any major pieces of federal marijuana legislation since he joined the Senate.

As a House member, Heller in 2007 voted against House Amendment 674, an amendment that would protect medical marijuana states from federal interference.

It does appear that Heller’s attitudes on medical marijuana may have evolved since then. Showing he likely supports the rights of states to legalize medical marijuana, in 2015 he signed on as a co-sponsor of the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion and Respect States (CARERS) Act, which would protect medical marijuana patients and providers from federal prosecution.

In announcing his support for the bill, Heller said, “The time has come for the federal government to stop impeding the doctor-patient relationship in states that have decided their own medical marijuana policies. This bipartisan legislation puts Americans who are suffering first by allowing Nevada’s medical marijuana patients, providers, and businesses that are in compliance with state law to no longer be in violation of federal law and vulnerable to federal prosecution.”

With that said, Heller has yet to show support for the latest form of the CARERS Act after it was reintroduced in 2017.

Heller is also a co-sponsor of the Marijuana Businesses Access to Banking Act of 2016, a bill that would protect banks and financial institutions that service marijuana-related businesses.

After U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year rescinded an Obama-era policy that had allowed states to legalize and regular marijuana without federal interference, Heller criticized the decision.

“Knowing Attorney General sessions’ deference to states’ rights, I strongly encourage the [Department of Justice] to meet with Governor Sandoval and Attorney General Laxalt to discuss the implications of changes to federal marijuana enforcement policy,” he said. “I also urge the DOJ to work with the congressional delegations from states like Nevada that have legalized marijuana as they review and navigate the new policy.”

Still, as pointed out by Marijuana Moment, Heller is the only Republican senator who is up for re-election this November who is from a state where recreational marijuana is legal and also voted to confirm Sessions, long-known for his anti-cannabis views, as attorney general.

Heller had earned a B grade last year on the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Congressional Scorecard last year, but NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told Marijuana Moment that the grade has been downgraded to a C for Heller “not representing his constituents.”

nevada senate race

Jacky Rosen (D)

  • Recreational Marijuana Legalization: Supports the right of states to make their own decisions about recreational marijuana
  • Medical Marijuana Legalization: Supports the right of states to make their own decisions about medical marijuana

In her short time in Congress, Jacky Rosen has regularly stepped up to protect state-legal marijuana operations.

Most recently, Rosen signed on as a co-sponsor of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, which would remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, thereby ending its prohibition under federal law.

In June, she co-sponsored the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, bipartisan legislation that would give states the power to completely legalize marijuana.

This year she also co-sponsored the bipartisan Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would provide protections to state-legal marijuana operations, as well as the Marijuana Effective Drug Studies Act, a bill that would facilitate scientific research on the potential therapeutic benefits of marijuana.

Rosen also supported the marijuana industry by co-sponsoring the Small Business Tax Equity Act, bipartisan legislation that would allow legal marijuana businesses to receive the same business-related tax deductions and credits as other businesses.

After AG Sessions rescinded protections for state legal marijuana, Rosen sent a letter to the attorney general, urging him to reverse his decision.

“In order to prevent legal uncertainty, maintain our vibrant economy, and continue to allow our constituents legal access to safe, effective medical cannabis products, we implore you to reinstate past DOJ policy immediately,” she wrote. “To do otherwise would be an affront to states’ rights, a threat to small businesses, and an insult to Nevada voters.”

Last year, Rosen joined a bipartisan letter urging the House Commerce, Justice, Science Appropriations Subcommittee to include language that protects those who comply with their state’s medical marijuana laws in their 2018 appropriations bill.

Additionally, after it was revealed that the Donald Trump Administration had secretly organized a committee of federal agencies aimed at combating public support for marijuana legalization, Rosen criticized the move in a statement.

“It should come as now surprise that Attorney General Sessions is leading the charge on spreading misinformation about marijuana legalization in states like Nevada,” Rosen said.

“The Trump Administration should not be working behind the scenes to mislead the public and undermine our successful efforts to legalize and regulate marijuana at the state level. After rescinding the Cole Memo last year, it’s clear why this Administration has not stepped up for real solutions this year. Congress must take action to provide certainty to Nevada businesses and consumers, and that’s why I’m supporting a number of bipartisan plans to protect states’ rights and the will of Nevada voters on marijuana.”


Rosen has criticized Heller for not more aggressively supporting Nevada’s cannabis industry.

“Nevada deserves another Senator who will protect our marijuana industry. Senator Heller has just been standing on the sidelines. #NVSen,” Rosen tweeted in August.

Marijuana on the Ballot

Learn all about where marijuana is on the ballot these upcoming 2018 midterms, as well as where candidates running for office stand on legalization, through our Election 2018 page.

Keep up with the latest cannabis industry news through our news page.

Post by Eve Ripley

Eve is a writer specializing in cannabis education and editorials related to cannabis industry news.
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