Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Is federal marijuana reform certain if Democrats win back the House this fall?

WashingtonDC-Capitol-MarijuanaThe question in the title of this post is prompted by this new Politico article fully headlined "Legal Marijuana’s Big Moment: Despite hostility from the Trump administration, signs indicate federal decriminalization is only a flipped House away." Here are snippets from the lengthy article:

In Washington, evolution on the marijuana issue is proceeding at warp speed in political terms.  Boehner is just the latest in a string of noteworthy newcomers to the legalization movement that has been barreling through state houses for the past decade.  Just in the past several weeks, Mitch McConnell fast-tracked a Senate bill to legalize low-THC hemp.  Chuck Schumer announced that he would introduce a bill to de-schedule marijuana entirely. Colorado Senator Cory Gardner struck a deal with President Donald Trump, who promised to not target Colorado’s legal marijuana industry in exchange for Gardner releasing his hold on Trump’s Department of Justice nominees.  The FDA opened a comment period on the scheduling of marijuana ahead of a special session of the World Health Organization convened to re-evaluate marijuana laws, and both chambers of Congress passed “right to try” bills that might have accidentally legalized medical marijuana for terminally ill patients.  Taken together they suggest that nearly 50 years of federal marijuana prohibition is about to disappear, and it’s happening in the face of an administration that has expressed its outright hostility to the notion....

When POLITICO Magazine caught up with [Representative Earl] Blumenauer last week, he bubbled with enthusiasm.  The prospects for legalizing marijuana at the federal level, he said, have never been brighter. “It’s kind of exciting, isn’t it?” he told me.  “It’s all cresting this year… I think we’re entering into the final stages, if everyone does their jobs right.”

“I think the next Congress will finish the job of reform, and clean it up,” he told me, by which he means if it flips to Democratic control and legislation is permitted to proceed.  “We’ve got the votes in the House and the Senate and there will be a huge shakeup in the next Congress.” With Democrats in control, the new chairs of the relevant committees would be pro-marijuana: Jerry Nadler in Judiciary, Frank Pallone in Commerce, and Jim McGovern in Rules.  “These are our friends with good records,” he said.  Blumenauer thinks the votes are there now, but bills are bottled up by Republican leadership.  “I think this Congress, if the Republican leadership would not stifle this bipartisan consensus of virtually every Democrat and several dozen Republicans, if they’d just allow the vote, it would pass [a number of measures].”  

This Politico article rightly highlights recent federal marijuana reform momentum, and I am not surprised to hear bullish reform talk from Rep. Blumenauer. However, I have seen federal sentencing reform momentum build for five+ years without it resulting in any significant new legislation, and I always fear at the federal level it is easier to talk about reform than to get it done. Relatedly, we have seen how marijuana reform momentum in New Jersey and a few other states has stalled as legislators have to turn away from political rhetoric and toward the development of specific legislation.

Relatedly, Vice News has this lengthy new piece reviewing the positions of all 100 US Senators on marijuana reform under the headline "Does Your Senator Think Weed Should Be Legal?"

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/marijuana_law/2018/04/is-federal-marijuana-reform-certain-if-democrats-win-back-the-house-this-fall.html

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