Federal Legalization of Marijuana Not Likely Soon but Proponents Are Trying

A bill introduced to legalize marijuana federally has no real chance of passage but is certain to move the debate forward.
Federal Legalization of Marijuana Not Likely Soon but Proponents Are Trying
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U.S. Sen. Corey Booker, D- NJ, this month introduced legislation to pave the way for federal legalization of marijuana. His proposed Marijuana Justice Act would make marijuana use legal nationwide and also encourage states to legalize it at the local level.

However, his bill has one major problem. The chances of it becoming law in the current political landscape in Washington are essentially zero.

Most media reports on Booker’s bill acknowledge this fact. Politico gave it “virtually no chance” to become law. Even enthusiastic pro-marijuana Rolling Stone admitted it faces “an uphill battle.”

It’s likely more than uphill. It’s likely impossible.

Related: L.A. Considers Plan for City-Owned Bank Friendly to Marijuana Businesses

GOP in charge.

At this point, trying to get marijuana legalized at the federal level is like trying to come from 21 points down against the 1985 Chicago Bears defense. The GOP has earned that comparison. They have done a stellar job locking down congressional and legislative races.

Republicans control both houses in the 115th U.S. Congress, which will run through January 2019. They hold 52 of the 100 Senate seats. The other 48 are divided between Democrats (46) and Independents (2).

In the House, the Republicans have an even bigger advantage. They hold 240 of the 435 seats, or 55.2 percent.

There’s more.  All the GOP leadership come from states where marijuana remains illegal, even for medical use. Senate leader Mitch McConnell hails from Kentucky. Vice President Mike Pence, the Senate president, is from Indiana. House Speaker Paul Ryan comes from Wisconsin.

Related: 3 Big Things You Need to Know Before Charging Into the Legal Marijuana Business

Trump and the states.

The other factor is President Donald Trump. He’s been mostly quiet on marijuana, but his administration the Department of Justice has signaled it wants to enforce federal laws that still list marijuana as a Schedule 1 illegal drug.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has especially spoken out against marijuana. He’s yet another GOP leader from a state -- Alabama -- where marijuana remains illegal.

Finally, there are the state legislatures. Any attempt to get legislative approval for marijuana at the state level will run into trouble in the 67 partisan state legislative chambers now controlled by Republicans. That’s more than twice the number of chambers controlled by Democrats (31).

That’s a new record for the GOP. Check out the red-dominated map from the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition to unlikely support for pro-marijuana legislation, these Republican dominated states also can set the tone for political discourse at the local level.

That discourse, so far, has been anti-legalized marijuana in most states.

Booker hammers war on drugs.

While the chances of passage are slim to none, Booker’s bill does foster public debate on legalized marijuana. Similar efforts to help the marijuana industry, like this one from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have helped move the debate forward.

Booker also takes on an issue that is beginning to surface more and more in the War on Drugs debate. His bill would penalize states where marijuana laws have led to a disproportionate number of arrests and incarceration of minorities.

Related: A New High: Nearly Half of All American Adults Have Tried Marijuana

Also, the new bill would expunge criminal records involving federal charges for possession and use of marijuana. Booker, the former mayor of Newark, laid his position out in plain language on his Facebook page, where he said the “failed War on Drugs” has resulted in millions of nonviolent drug offenders in jail and saddled with permanent criminal records.

He added that the War on Drug has been waged “at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars. The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor.”

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