Wednesday January 9, 2019
By Paul Barach
A majority of Americans, around 62%, support legalizing cannabis federally. That’s 2 out of every 3 people. Whether they want legalization for the boost to state economies, to take advantage of marijuana’s many medical benefits, or to stem the number of incarcerations over a harmless plant, more and more Americans are going green in support of federal cannabis legalization. With all this support for marijuana reform you would think that our politicians would respond accordingly by voting to decriminalize cannabis. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
The State of Cannabis in Washington D.C.
While democracies should reflect the views of the people, ours does not right now – at least when it comes to cannabis. Instead, legalization is being held back by a number of influential politicians with regressive ideas about cannabis (or certain lobbying groups pushing against cannabis reform). Since gaining control of congress, Republican leaders have blocked floor votes on dozens of marijuana related amendments, mostly during the current 115th congress.
Since 2017, not a single marijuana measure has advanced to a vote before the full body.
Luckily, there are a growing number of cannabis advocates and defenders in Congress who continue to push for a repeal of marijuana prohibition alongside the American voting public. Below are some notable pro-cannabis legislators that could make a real difference in the coming years.
The youngest woman ever elected to congress and perhaps the most famous incoming representative in a generation, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AKA The Notorious AOC) is an outspoken advocate of Medicare-for-all, criminal justice reform, environmental protection, and a whole host of other progressive issues. It comes as no surprise that marijuana legalization is on that list.
Now representing the 14th district of New York State, where medical cannabis is already legal, AOC believes that cannabis must be fully legalized. Additionally, she supports freeing those who have been imprisoned on non-violent drug offenses for marijuana. While she won’t be chairing any committees as a freshman congressional rep, her vote as well as her strong voice and popularity will continue to push legalization forward. Plus, with Andrew Cuomo’s recent statements showing a change of heart toward cannabis, New York marijuana legalization could happen within the first 100 days of 2019.
Representing Oregon’s 3rd district since 1996, Earl Blumenauer has been an outspoken advocate for marijuana reform for decades and co-founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. This bipartisan forum allows “members of the U.S. House of Representatives to discuss, learn, and work together to establish a better and more rational approach to federal cannabis policy.” Most recently, Rep. Blumenauer released a memo colleagues to his colleagues laying out a blueprint for federal cannabis legalization by 2019. Until nationwide legalization is a possibility, Rep. Blumenauer is proposing a series of incremental fixes which would remove barriers to marijuana research, provide banking services and tax reform for cannabis businesses, support criminal justice reform for cannabis, grant easier access to medical marijuana for military veterans, and more.
Barbara Lee was elected to represent California’s 13th district back in 1998, including Oakland and Alameda. Oakland’s Harborside was the first licensed medical dispensary in the country and Rep. Lee has always been a staunch proponent of legalization. Recently, she supported the Ending Federal Prohibition of Marijuana Act for 2017-2018 and has been a tireless advocate of cannabis justice reform, freeing non-violent drug offenders, wiping out cannabis-related convictions from criminal records, and increasing minority representation and entrepreneurs of color in the cannabis space.
Another Californian from the 33rd District, representing Beverly Hills, Ted Lieu was just elected the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee co-chair. In this new position, Rep Lieu will be bringing his strong marijuana support further into the Democratic policy platform. He has also co-authored bills on federal legalization as well the authorization of marijuana transactions in the banking industry.
A vocal opponent of former Attorney General Jeff Session’s marijuana policies, Ted put forth legislation to weaken the DEA’s ability to go after legal marijuana operations. He is also the first sitting representative to attend the opening of a dispensary, as he did this year when he cut the ribbon at the new MedMen dispensary in Venice Beach.
The long-serving Senator from Vermont has always been an outspoken advocate of progressive cannabis policies, and did not waver in his support even when running for President. In 2016, dropping marijuana as a Schedule I drug was a key component of Sanders’ Presidential platform. He has also supported key pieces of federal legislation, such as the Marijuana Justice Act alongside Colorado’s Cory Gardner.
The most far reaching cannabis-reform bill ever submitted to the Senate, the Marijuana Justice Act would remove cannabis entirely from the Controlled Substances Act, legalizing it at the federal level. The bill would also address the racial and social inequalities of marijuana policing on minority populations by eliminating federal funding for prison construction and staffing in states with disproportionate arrest rates for minorities and persons of color.
For years, the Senator from Massachusetts has been a supporter of progressive marijuana laws, as well as progressive healthcare, progressive economic policies, and pretty much anything else you can think of. She endorsed Massachusetts’ ballot initiative in 2016 that legalized recreational cannabis, even if at the time she publicly said that she was only open to the possibility of legalizing federally. Senator Warren was the original sponsor of the STATES Act in 2018, which would end the federal ban on marijuana and give control of legalization over to the states entirely.
The highest-ranking Senate Democrat and Senate Minority Leader, the Senator from New York does not have a prominent history with cannabis legalization. While Schumer has been a supporter of medical cannabis for years, his thinking has recently evolved into supporting recreational as well. In 2018, Senator Schumer put forth legislation to decriminalize marijuana federally and allow states to determine cannabis’ legality on their own. The bill would also allocate a trust fund that would go towards the small business concerns of women as well as socially and economically disadvantaged people working in the marijuana industry.
Although federal cannabis legalization continues on a state by state level, and federal decriminalization looks inevitable down the road, there is always urgency in pushing progressive cannabis reform. The social justice, the economic benefits, and the people it can help medically are so important. As voters in a growing number of states and the District of Columbia have learned, making your voice heard on progressive cannabis legislation pays off. A majority of the American people believe marijuana should be legalized, now we just need to elect a majority of representatives that believe the same.
Do you think we have enough pro-cannabis advocates in Washington D.C.? Share your thoughts in the comments below!