The cannabis community could learn sooner than later just how enthusiastic the 116th Congress is about changing the marijuana laws in this country. A piece of legislation submitted last week designed to legalize marijuana nationwide like alcohol could be the document that shows advocates just how serious Capitol Hill is about ending prohibition once and for all. There is also a distinct possibility the bill will go down in history like a flaming piece of legislative hype, a waste of paper the same as other wildly-hyped cannabis proposals of the past. Every Congress needs one of those, right?
Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the founding members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, managed to secure a fair amount of press last week with the introduction of what is being referred to as the “420” bill. The measure intends to eliminate marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act and allow the herb to become an unshackled product of American commerce. It’s a good bill and, more than that, it is representative of where cannabis legalization is heading in the United States.
The actual title of the proposal, however, is the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act,” only it was filed with the sigil of the stoner culture (House Resolution 420) as a tongue in cheek nod to its stoned supporters. And why not? Although the cannabis trade has been working for years to disassociate itself from marijuana stereotypes, the scene continues to embrace the 420 reference as though it were a new religion. It is celebrated with much fanfare every April 20.
There are some who believe that 2019 is the year that cannabis reform takes hold in the halls of Congress. Not only have Democrats gained back control of the House of Representatives, but this partial overthrow of Republican domination has spawned the largest showing of cannabis support ever in that chamber.
By all accounts, this should mean immense success this year in the House when it comes to approving legislation like Blumenauer’s 420 bill. But will it? Well, probably not how you think.
Nearly all of the support for cannabis in the House comes in the form of state’s rights and medical marijuana. Most lawmakers believe that each individual state should have the freedom to do as it wishes with weed without getting hassled by the federal government. And then, of course, there are those who believe in giving sick people access to medical marijuana to help them live more comfortably with whatever ails them. Yet, it would be hugely inaccurate to suggest that the majority of the lower chamber is in favor of the concept of legalizing weed all across the nation for adults 21 and over.
Even with a new and improved Congressional Cannabis Caucus (CCC) in place, some kind of miracle would have to unfold for all the bricks to fall in 2019. Members of the CCC seem to believe that the best shot for legal weed in the coming months is by hitting it from the angle of state’s rights.
“Since the initial launch of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus we’ve seen an exponential growth in interest, legislation, and membership many would not have expected,” Representative Don Young said in a recent statement. “The idea of States’ Rights has been a central tenet of this movement and one that I believe will ultimately carry the day,” he added.
So, the most likely scenario, if anything related to permanent marijuana reform is to get pushed through Congress this year, is the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act – or something like it. In a nutshell, this piece of legislation would allow states to legalize marijuana without the threat of federal interference. It would not, however, legalize the leaf in the eyes of the federal government. For whatever reason, this is the bill that the cannabis industry has decided to get behind. It has become so desperate to set up a sliver of a shield to make financial institutions more comfortable about taking its money that it’s willing to settle for a steaming pile of anything just to claim a win. And let’s not forget that President Trump said last year that he would “probably” sign it if it crossed his desk. So, rather than push for a more appropriate bill – one that actually deals with weed the same as alcohol and tobacco – a select few industry peeps are out there tossing money at lawmakers in exchange for a shot at mediocrity.
Seriously, a team of pot lobbyists is reportedly in Washington D.C. right now trying to persuade lawmakers to get behind this bill. “The STATES Act, it’s a bipartisan bill that the president has said he will sign into law,” Cannabis Trade Federation (CTF) CEO Neal Levine told The Hill. “So it’s the one piece of legislation from our intel that we think we have a legitimate chance to pass into law that would fundamentally address all of the major issues that the cannabis industry faces today.”
If that statement doesn’t ooze desperation, I don’t know what does.
Instead of chasing some half-assed legislation, the CTF should be pressuring lawmakers to sign on with Blumenauer’s 420 bill – or a measure containing that kind of meat. Then and only then will marijuana legalization start to shape up nationwide. It’s the most logical way to open the doors for cannabis and allow it to become recognized as a legitimate part of the American marketplace while, at the same time, catapulting the cannabis trade to heights that it would struggle to achieve under a bill designed to reiterate state’s rights and put fraidy-cat financial corporations at ease.
But the outcome is up to Congress. This will be the year that cannabis advocates learn just how many House Democrats are really on the side of pot reform. They will find out soon enough if the issue is going to be met with broader acceptance or whether it will continue to be sandbagged inside the same political cesspool that it has been all of these years. Within the next few months, true colors will be shown.
Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner said last year that the votes would be there when it comes time to put weed on the national stage, but as far as “when,” all he would say was that “we won’t be waiting five years.”
But if cannabis advocates don’t hear substantial chatter on marijuana legalization by summer – regardless of whether it is the Blumenauer’s 420 bill or something styled like the STATES Act — rest assured the following months will be full of let downs and disappointment. Somebody still has to convince Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that this is the right thing to do before it has a shot at going the distance. Representative Blumenauer said last year that if the issue can gain substantial traction in the House, it will be easier to get the Senate onboard. So, it’s really up to the Democrats to get the ball rolling. One thing is certain if they don’t budge on this issue, nobody will. At least not until President Trump makes federal legalization a part of his reelection campaign.
It could happen.