Marijuana legislation

The Times They Are A Changin’: Marijuana Bills Storm the Halls of Congress

Gone are the days when presidential candidates dare not admit they had experience with pot. You may recall Bill Clinton was famously ridiculed for his claim that he had smoked, but not inhaled, and Barack Obama’s admission that he did indeed inhale, but only because he was a struggling, confused young boy.

Among the current crop of Democratic politicians who aspire to higher office, nearly all have expressed some level of support for new marijuana policy. In fact, presidential candidates are tripping over themselves to demonstrate their cannabis credentials, while a number have introduced bills to this end. Just this week, Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and Don Young (R-AK) introduced a bill called the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2019, which is a fairly straightforward attempt to remove the drug from the federal list of controlled substances and effectively allow states to make independent choices about their marijuana programs.

Representative Gabbard, who recently announced her presidential candidacy, noted that current drug laws disproportionately affect the poor and people of color, who are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. “The bottom line is, our policies need to make sense for our people and our country,” she said. “They should not cost our economy and society and criminal justice system billions every year. We must end the federal prohibition on marijuana now.”

A second bill was also introduced— the Marijuana Data Collection Act— which would study state marijuana legalization programs in order to produce impartial federal reports. We have written here extensively about how the prohibition on most marijuana research has become a burdensome hurdle to making informed policy changes. Gabbard said it would “dispel myths and stigma” that have impeded legal reforms.

This wasn’t the first legislation introduced to Congress this year. In February, Oregon Democrats Rep. Earl Blumenauer and Senator Ron Wyden introduced bills that aim to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in both the House and Senate.

Also in February, lawmakers in Minnesota introduced S.421, which seeks to “reduce the gap between Federal and State marijuana policy.” It proposes reforms that would allow cannabis companies access to banks, allow advertising, expunge criminal records, shield immigrants from deportation over marijuana and allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans.

It is not clear if any of these measures will proceed—House leaders would have to agree on a bill to advance, and it’s unclear if the Republican-led Senate would cooperate. Nevertheless, all this action demonstrates a groundswell of support and changing opinions about US marijuana policy. 2020 may just be the election year that brings legalization.

Christina Rock is a Seattle-based writer and photographer with a deep affection for late sixties music, strong coffee, and days that go better than planned.