Wanna Get Lit? Cool, Let’s Talk About Marijuana
Even though a quarter of the federal government has been shut down for over a month, that hasn’t prevented lawmakers from drafting some of the session’s first bills. Now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, the issue of medical and recreational marijuana is already hitting the ground running.
Under eight years of Republican control in the House, legislation aiming to legalize marijuana didn’t advance far. Therefore, many states took it upon themselves to tackle the issue. Colorado, for instance, legalized recreational marijuana in 2013. As of November 2018, 10 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana (or were in the process of doing so) “while 33 states allow medical marijuana.” Some states, including California, Nevada, Michigan, and Maine allow for both medical and recreational marijuana.
Many Democrats–freshmen and veteran members alike–are eager to begin debating this issue. But it’s not just Democrats who are anxious, some House Republicans are too. Rep. Don Young (R) of Alaska and Rep. Steve Cohen (D) of Tennessee have re-introduced the “CARERS Act,” titled H.R. 127. The two Congressmen introduced this Act in the 114th and 115th Congresses, but the bill failed to pass the multiple committees it was referred to.
Essentially, the “CARERS Act of 2019” “would extend the principle of federalism to State drug policy, provide access to medical marijuana, and enable research into the medicinal properties of marijuana.” While this bill is geared more towards greater access to medical marijuana than recreational, it has elements that could please both Democrats and Republicans.
But there are some members who want to go full-force. Rep. Barbara Lee (D) of California, Chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, is aiming to support legislation that would advance the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana. She hopes to address ‘“a systemic racism, and institutional racism and injustice in our criminal justice system.”’ Specifically, Lee wants Congress to pass the Marijuana Justice Act, formerly sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D) of New Jersey.
Because Congress’ sessions last a year each, bills have to be renewed at the start of the next Congress if they don’t pass both chambers by the session’s end. Booker’s 2017 Marijuana Justice Act would have decriminalized marijuana as a federally controlled substance, and loosened criminal penalties for those in possession of the substance, trying to import or export it, or “manufactures, distributes, or possesses with intent to distribute” it. The bill was introduced in the Senate but failed to pass committee.
It’s questionable if Republicans would support the Act, given that the federal government would essentially be given more authority over state governments to eliminate criminal penalties. But, a bill such as this, if re-introduced, could have the potential to pass in the House.
Did you say 420? Yup. In addition to the “CARERS Act of 2019” and the potential reintroduction of Sen. Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act, there is another bill which could gain some traction: Rep. Earl Blumenauer’s (D-Oregon) H.R. 420. The bill, similar to the Marijuana Justice Act, would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances. The actual text of the bill has not yet been released, but Blumenauer notes, per Forbes, the legislation “would also transfer cannabis enforcement authority from Drug Enforcement Administration to a renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana, Firearms, and Explosives.”
While legislation is being drafted in the House, it could get a push from an unlikely member in the Senate: Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky. McConnell is an unlikely supporter of marijuana legalization or semi-supporter, you could say. Last year’s Farm Bill included a provision legalizing hemp–the sister plant of Marijuana. As of last year, hemp was “a Schedule I federally controlled substance, in the same legal category as LSD, heroin, and Ecstasy.” Now, it is in the process of legalization.
If one the bills (mentioned above) passes in the House, Senate Democrats could find a friend in Leader McConnell. They could also try to convince Republican Senators Dan Sullivan of Alaska, Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Susan Collins of Maine to vote for that legislation. All three senators are up for re-election in 2020 in states which have legalized medical and recreational marijuana. Politically, it would look bad if these senators voted against such legislation. And, if Leader McConnell is eager to keep his Republican Senate majority in 2020, then he might be nudging Senators Sullivan, Gardner, and Collins to vote in alignment with their constituents.