The 113th Congress has seen the emergence of a bipartisan majority working to reform the nation's drug laws, according to a new scorecard released by Drug Policy Action, a non-profit group in favor of overhauling federal drug policy.
The group scored U.S. House members according to their votes on seven key drug reform measures, like allowing states to grow industrial hemp and preventing the Justice Department from undermining state marijuana laws. In 2014, "a clear bipartisan consensus favored letting states set their own marijuana policies and move forward with industrial hemp cultivation," according to the report.
Forty nine representatives, including 11 Republicans, earned A+ grades indicating they voted for reform on all seven amendments. One hundred seventy nine Democrats and 64 Republicans supported at least three of the measures, earning them a rating of C or better.
Geographically, support for drug reform is strongest in the Northeast and on the West Coast. Opposition to the measures is heavily concentrated among representatives from Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana.
The map below converts Drug Policy Action's letter grades into numerical scores (4.0 = A) and averages them for each state's House delegation. Individual representative's scores are included in the searchable table below the map.
The geographic divide is largely a function of a political one - the average score among house Democrats is 3.704, or a solid B+. But the average score among the Republican caucus is 0.995, or just a hair under a D. Democrats are still much more enthusiastic in their support for drug reform than Republicans are.
But some prominent Republicans have been breaking the ice in recent years. Most notably, the report names Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as a "champion of reform." Rohrabacher introduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, which would "exempt individuals acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from federal arrest and prosecution in states that have reformed their marijuana laws," according to the report. The bill was co-sponsored by 22 Democrats and 6 Republicans, but hasn't made it out of committee.
One the other hand, the report named three representatives, all Republican, as "drug war extremists" who have been notable for their zeal in opposing changes to drug laws. Chief among them was Maryland's Andy Harris, who singlehandedly attempted - and failed - to block the enactment of D.C.'s popular marijuana decriminalization bill earlier this year. He's already making noise about opposing D.C.'s full legalization measure that seems poised to pass next week.
Overall the report notes just how much Congress has shifted on drug questions in a remarkably short period of time. At the time of Drug Policy Action's last scorecard, in 2008, there were only four drug-related votes in the House, and no Representatives voted in favor of reform on each one. "The intervening years have seen a profound shift in favor of drug policy reform efforts and the emergence of a bipartisan majority of U.S. Representatives working in support of change," the report's authors write.
There are a number of factors behind the shift. Growing public support for legalizing marijuana - and widespread distaste for draconian sentencing laws - are a major force. The Great Recession also brought increased awareness of the unsustainable cost of throwing thousands of people behind bars for minor drug offenses.
Drug Policy Action lists a number of ballot items before voters next week, including marijuana legalization in several states and sentencing reform in others, whose outcomes will help determine whether momentum for drug policy reform continues at its current rate. A bevy of new recruits in Congress next year will also undoubtedly play a major role in determining the course of the nation's drug laws.
Even setting aside the outcomes at the voting booth this fall, the ongoing legalization experiments in Colorado and Washington make it almost certain the drug laws will be an issue in 2016.