Don’t Bet On Federal Marijuana Legalization Just Yet

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Photo Credit: Melina Mara

Prediction is very difficult, especially if it’s about the future.” – Danish physicist Neils Bohr

Ever since President Donald Trump said ahead of the G-7 summit in Canada that he would “probably” support a measure designed to legalize marijuana nationwide, the jibber-jabber pulsing through the American media has leaned toward the possibility of the United States ending federal pot prohibition… once and for all.

This could happen, The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board alluded earlier this week, since Trump is the first White House goon in history to even so much as suggest that he would support this level of national drug reform in ink. The legendary newspaper went so far as to say that red-eyed revenge against his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, could be what ultimately inspires him to go green.

“It doesn’t hurt that Trump is still mad at Sessions over the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election,” the Board wrote. “It would be ironic if Trump’s irrational anger at the attorney general is what finally pushes the federal government to adopt a rational policy on marijuana.”

Even legal experts, like attorney Hilary Bricken, who specializes in matters pertaining to the cannabis industry, wrote in a recent piece for Above The Law that, “it does very much look as though the political stars may finally be aligned to see meaningful marijuana law reform at the Congressional level.”

All of the optimism surrounding the possibility of marijuana prohibition being on its deathbed stems from the recent introduction of a bill in the U.S. Senate called the STATES Act (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States). The proposal, which was dragged up to the steps of Congress by Senators Cory Gardner of Colorado and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is designed to eliminate the possibility of federal interference in states that have legalized the leaf in some fashion.

But unlike previous pot-related measures that have been submitted and left to linger and die in the halls of the nation’s political menagerie, the bill does not go the distance by eliminating the cannabis plant from the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act.

Under this proposal, cannabis would remain a Schedule I dangerous drug — only states would be given the freedom to engage in the legal cannabis trade without the risk of raids and prosecutions.

If passed, it would essentially become a concrete version of the now infamous Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment, which has protected medical marijuana states from the wrath of the Justice Department, on a temporary basis, for the past several years. But with the STATES Act, the recreational marijuana sector would also find protection under a permanent shield.

The federal government would still get to continue cracking the skulls of violent drug cartels operating in the black market, while states with medical and recreational pot laws on the books could do their thing without any hassles. As for those states that want nothing to do with legal weed, they could maintain a prohibitionary standard. It is this compromise in the bill’s language along with Trump’s newfound pledge to “possibly” support legal weed that has convinced some members of the cannabis community, even those with college degrees, that pot is about to become as legitimate as Budweiser.

But before the STATES Act, or any other marijuana measure currently lingering in political purgatory on Capitol Hill (and there are a few), can be signed by President Trump, it would first need to be met with Congressional approval – and that seems unlikely at this juncture.

Although the issue is gradually picking up steam in both chambers, most federal lawmakers have yet to come out in support of marijuana. Minus the few newcomers that have emerged on the scene in 2018, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kamala Harris, there is still only a small group of cannabis supporters doing the good work in Congress.

As it stands, the STATES Act has only nine co-sponsors. That’s not exactly an impressive showing, especially considering that some cannabis-related proposals have earned in upwards of 30 co-sponsors, and have yet to receive any consideration.

What’s worse is influential powers on the Hill, namely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is largely responsible for which bills get picked up for discussion in the Senate, says he is nowhere near ready to see marijuana legalization take hold at the national level.

In fact, the Republican, who is pushing to legitimize industrial hemp across the United States, told reporters last month that he has no intention of getting behind a proposal aimed at legalizing marijuana. “It is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace,” McConnell said.

If this is true, and it probably is, the chances of the STATES Act getting so much as a hearing are slim to none. My prediction is the bill will do what Senator Cory Booker’s highly publicized Marijuana Justice Act has done since it was filed in 2017 – collect dust. After more than a year in limbo, Booker’s federal legalization bill has only managed to secure seven co-sponsors.

But this inaction is not all a Republican bungle. Even Democrats have been resistant to support nationwide cannabis reform.

In January, back when there was still a chance that Attorney General Sessions might initiate a crackdown on jurisdictions with legal weed, some staffers of Democratic Congressmen and women representing states with recreational marijuana laws on the books told Roll Call that as long as everything was copacetic in their neck of the woods, there was no interest in bringing federal prohibition to an end. And the ones that do support this reform are primarily interested in medical marijuana research and compassionate use.

The bottom line is it may still be too early to get excited about the possibility of marijuana legalization going nationwide. There is still plenty of opposition in Congress that can and likely will prevent this much-needed reform from happening anytime soon. And, as much as he probably thinks he can, Trump can’t do it alone. There are no Executive Orders for this sort of deal.

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