The public’s attitude toward marijuana in the United States has come a long way. 1969 was famously the year of Woodstock, yet only 12% of Americans at the time believed cannabis should have been legalized. Fast forward to the latest Gallup Poll, taken in October 2018, and 62% of Americans think the herb should be made legal, and this figure just keeps rising.
In the political sphere, senators, congress-people, and governors tend to do what is best for their chances of election. It is a cynical yet accurate description, unfortunately! As the tide turns in favor of weed, the attitudes of certain political figures have changed with it. Of course, certain politicians such as Dana Rohrabacher and Ron Paul have wanted to end marijuana prohibition for years; and their energy and consistency in tackling the issue is to be commended.
Whatever we think of our political figures, we need them to help fulfill the dream of marijuana legalization. In an encouraging development, an increasing number of politicians are submitting pro-marijuana bills for discussion, and others are quick to become signatories. One of the latest is the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, better known as S. 420. It moves to legalize marijuana and regulate it like alcohol.
What Would S. 420 Do for Marijuana?
S. 420 is a federal bill that was introduced to the Senate in February 2019 by Senator Ron Wyden who represents Oregon. It was co-sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The purpose of the bill is to federally regulate, decriminalize, and tax cannabis products; just as we currently do with alcohol. In other words, it would completely change the face of the marijuana industry forever.
The official name of the bill is the Marijuana Revenue and Regulation Act, and it has been introduced as a ‘companion’ measure to House Resolution (HR) 420 which was introduced by Earl Blumenauer of Oregon in January 2019. HR 420 would federally regulate weed like alcohol.
Imagine being able to purchase weed as easily as alcohol. Unlike alcohol, there would be legal limits on the quantity you can purchase at once, but it is about as good a ‘deal’ as cannabis users are likely to get.
While Blumenauer used the famous ‘420’ reference to add some mirth, he said that it is a very serious issue. He correctly stated that federal cannabis laws were out of touch and negatively impacted thousands of lives. Blumenauer concluded by saying we needed to “end this senseless prohibition.”
If HR 420 was passed, it would remove the herb from the Controlled Substances Act and hand over weed regulation to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Removing the herb from Schedule I status would remove banking regulations and allow marijuana companies to function like ‘traditional’ businesses.
As for S. 420, Wyden said it aimed to “responsibly legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana at the federal level.” He echoed Blumenauer’s sentiments by saying that federal prohibition of cannabis is wrong and has wasted too many lives.
When Wyden announced S. 420, Blumenauer used the opportunity to once again speak out against marijuana prohibition. He pointed out that the public’s opinions on weed have changed and the representatives in Congress must recognize this fact. While his state, Oregon, is a national leader in common-sense cannabis policies, the federal government remains stuck in the dark ages.
The current Congress is the most “pro-cannabis Congress in American history,” according to Blumenauer, and important pieces of legislation are continually being introduced. He concluded by saying the House is doing the right thing, and he believes that with the help of Senator Wyden, the Senate will ultimately follow suit.
What Will Happen Next?
The wheels of Congress grind slowly whenever there is opposition to legislation (which is ALWAYS). The 115th U.S. Congress met from 3 January 2017 to 3 January 2019. During that time, more than 60 pieces of marijuana-related legislation were introduced. Dozens more will be introduced during the 116th Congress, which has already got off to a busy start on that particular front.
Perhaps more pertinently, six different proposals in Congress would finally end marijuana prohibition in the U.S. They are different pieces of legislation: While some merely allow legal states to continue without concern over federal law, others want to go all the way; regulating and legalizing the drug entirely.
Here’s the thing about bills: They are relatively easy to introduce in Congress. The problem is garnering enough support first to get a committee’s review, and then to go to a full vote. Once you get this far, you need to make sure you have enough votes to pass the bill into law. Although Republicans like Blumenauer and Rohrabacher support marijuana reform, there are enough of their fellow party members in power who are against weed to keep the status quo.
The dozens of marijuana bills in play cause confusion, but it is all part of a wider strategy. It is possible to alter bills along the way; this often happens if a lawmaker knows he/she is close to getting enough votes. Eventually, the overlapping marijuana bills may come together. At the very least, lawmakers are planning ahead. Some of the things they are proposing now could come to pass in later bills.
Aside from the HR 420 and S. 420 legislation, important proposals include the STATES Act, the REFER Act, and the Sensible Enforcement of Cannabis Act (SECA). Then we have the CARERS Act and the Next Step Act. Some of these bills seek state control while others are looking to deschedule marijuana.
In other words, in answer to the question “What happens next?”, the only answer we can give is “no one knows.” We can be reasonably confident that as long as the Republicans retain a Senate majority, it is unlikely that we will see the end of federal prohibition.
Something Must Be Done!
Blumenauer and Wyden speak the truth when they say that marijuana prohibition has ruined many lives. African-Americans have suffered the wrath of the federal government to a disproportionate degree. Even the latest pro-marijuana bills introduced to Congress will continue to hurt African-Americans.
For example, the 420 sets of bills would bar people with previous marijuana-related convictions from being eligible for cannabis business licenses; or else they may have to wait five years. The S. 421 bill only allows for the limited expungement of criminal marijuana records.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), black people are 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for a weed-crime than whites, despite both races using the herb at approximately the same rate. Therefore, while these bills would make a major dent in the racist war on drugs, they would discriminate against those who are already on the wrong end of things.
Meanwhile, Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries announced the reintroduction of the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act in May 2019. It was introduced in the 115th Congress but stalled. It involves taking a significant step towards making the landscape fairer by expunging low-level marijuana convictions and provide funding for cannabis enterprises owned by women and ethnic minorities.
Ultimately, there is no way of knowing which bill will make it the furthest, or even if any of them will make it into law. While lawmakers twiddle their collective thumbs, it is up to pro-marijuana voters to make themselves heard. Take a closer look at the most prominent bills that have been introduced and throw your weight behind the one you believe is best for marijuana.
Get in touch with your legislator and let them know that you support that bill. Even if the bill doesn’t make it through, the lawmaker will know that voters in his/her area are pro-cannabis. It could be years before any of these bills even make it to a meaningful vote. For all we know, it could be a bill that hasn’t been introduced yet that makes all the difference. Until then, all we can do is continue to advocate for marijuana reform.