Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, August 6, 2017

"Is Supporting Legal Pot Becoming Politically Viable in DC?"

The title of this post is the headline of this lengthy Rolling Stone article.  Here are excerpts:

It's no longer political suicide, or so it seems, to embrace legalizing marijuana. At least among the younger generation of prominent Democrats, though there seems to be cracks in the dam amongst Republicans too.

The latest evolution on the issue was on display this week as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker – a former mayor of Newark who is a young, affable guy rumored to be considering a presidential bid in 2020 – unveiled the most sweeping proposal yet to the nation's marijuana policy.  The bill, dubbed the Marijuana Justice Act, would end the federal prohibition on weed by removing the plant from the list of controlled, as in banned, substances where it currently sits next to drugs like heroine and LSD....

During his failed presidential bid, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders released a bill to simply legalize marijuana federally, but it didn't go nearly as far as this new one.   Besides ending the federal prohibition on pot, Booker's legislation incentivize states to decrease their prison populations by withholding federal funds if they have disproportionate numbers of minorities and poor people locked up for cannabis violations.   His proposal also calls on the courts to expunge the records of people behind bars for marijuana violations, while investing money in job training programs.

A sweeping proposal like this would have been seen as the political third rail a few years ago, but voters in red and blue states alike have far outpaced the nation's stodgy political class and lawmakers are now slowly catching up with voters.  Now it's becoming more en vogue for politicians to challenge some of the key underpinnings of the nation's decades-long war on drugs....

While Democrats, especially this younger generation of lawmakers, are coming around more quickly to the will of citizens across the political spectrum – who have voted in recreational marijuana in eight states and the nation's capital, as well as in the dozens of states that allow medical marijuana – GOP leaders (including Attorney General Jeff "Just Say No" Sessions) are still proving a roadblock to the reform effort.

Before leaving town for August, Speaker Paul Ryan's top lieutenants in the House beat back a broadly supported, bipartisan effort to allow doctors at VA hospitals to prescribe marijuana to veterans suffering from everything from PTSD to losing a limb, which often comes with astronomically large and recurring opioid prescriptions.

Still other Republicans brush aside any talk of marijuana legalization. That's in part because the GOP base doesn't seem to be as vocal on the issue, which former presidential candidate Lindsey Graham says never really came up as he traversed Iowa and other states that vote early. "No – didn't hang around with the right crowd I guess," Sen. Graham tells Rolling Stone....

Some Republicans are learning marijuana is no longer the political third rail it once was.  There are other efforts afoot in the Capitol to make it easier for universities and research hospitals to study marijuana, while also protecting medicinal marijuana business owners and patients.  While the progressive Booker supports those efforts, so do two Tea Party darlings, Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky....

While slow moving, the change is palpable, especially for the lawmakers in those purple, blue and even red states alike who represent voters who approved medical or recreational weed.  "The country is changing, as did Massachusetts, and as each state moves further than it creates a national culture," Democratic Sen. Ed Markey tells Rolling Stone.  "It's like gay marriage: in Massachusetts it starts and then another state and another state and before long it's something that people understand is a part of the modern political culture."

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2017/08/is-supporting-legal-pot-becoming-politically-viable-in-dc.html

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