The U.S. Congress is poised to take another step on the long road to legalizing marijuana this week, but lags far behind the pace of state governments across the country.
The House of Representatives is poised to vote on a bill that would decriminalize possession of marijuana at the federal level, a step that would simultaneously be a shock in the arm of the legal pot industry while still falling far behind the target. industry for full legalization.
Under federal law, possession of marijuana is treated as a Schedule 1 substance, along with heroin, ecstasy, and other illicit drugs. Despite its approval for medical use to treat conditions such as persistent inflammation, anxiety, and sleep problems, the federal government does not recognize any medical use for the plant.
“Marijuana is a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means it has a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical uses in treatment in the United States, and a lack of safety accepted for use under medical supervision,” reads the Drug Enforcement Administration website.
This definition flies in the face of reality in almost every state in the union. Only a handful of states still have laws in effect making the substance completely illegal for both recreational and medical use; most states allow at least medical use, and many have significantly reduced penalties for non-medical personal possession.
In many states, as well as Washington DC, it remains very easy to obtain a medical use license for the use of the substance on a wide range of conditions. Virginia, where many lawmakers, federal workers and congressmen reside, just made possession of up to one ounce of marijuana legal for adults in 2021.
More states are changing their laws every year, though Congress remains placid on the issue and advocates have had minimal success on the federal legalization front. It is worth asking, now, why the discrepancy between state and federal laws on the matter is so wide.
Part of this discrepancy is the result of Congress’ much broader public platform and the volatility of its membership base thanks to the fact that the entire House and one-third of the Senate are elected every two years, coupled with the average age of DC lawmakers.
The leadership of both parties, long among the most resistant to such legislation, consists of the party’s oldest members, and as a result views on drug policy reform are much more conservative than some rank and file members. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi support the latest push for decriminalization, but other leaders like former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid strongly opposed such efforts.
An example of this dynamic can be found in the case of Diane Feinstein, a senior senator from California, who hit back at a progressive primary challenge in 2018 after reversing her stance on the issue and announcing her opposition to the federal government cracks down on marijuana users and dispensaries. that follow state law.
But Capitol Hill lawmakers aren’t the only ones who have opposed efforts to deprogram, decriminalize or legalize drugs in Washington. The other main reason for inaction at the federal level can be found at 1700 Pennsylvania Ave., where marijuana advocates have not seen a single president show anything more than outright hostility toward their causes.
Even though recreational use has exploded across the country and blue states have been among the pioneer municipalities where drug policy reform is being attempted, Democratic presidents have failed to take the issue seriously. on a national level. Joe Biden is the latest example, and it remains unclear whether he would even sign Mr. Schumer’s latest Democratic-led campaign to decriminalize drugs if it reached his office.
His predecessor as the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, was no better: Mr. Obama’s administration strenuously opposed legalizing recreational use as a matter of public policy, and despite a statement in early 2009 that his administration would stop cracking down on users in areas where the drug was legal, it was not. The Department of Justice would continue to loot dozens, if not hundreds, clinics throughout his eight years in office.
Pot supporters have the same fate under Republican-led administrations. Donald Trump was reputedly anti-drug, and when he took office, his Justice Department, under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, took a much tougher stance than even the Obama administration against the distribution of marijuana in localities where it was legalized.
The latest decriminalization push has by far the greatest chance of success of any federal drug decriminalization effort in years, but it’s still unclear if the bill will even make it to Joe’s desk. Biden thanks to a 50-50 Senate and public concerns already expressed by Republicans over aspects of the bill that would tax marijuana sales and use the proceeds to help communities affected by the war on drugs.
And even if this particular iteration of legalization efforts fails, advocates say their time has come.
“At first I was laughed at with a bill like this,” Senator Cory Booker noted in an interview with Bloomberg Government. “And now we’re getting closer and closer.”