Anyone who has been paying any attention at to the pulse of the marijuana legalization movement over the past few months has likely stumbled onto a story or two claiming that marijuana legalization in the United States is right around the corner. For the newcomer to the scene, the news sounds promising — like maybe Uncle Sam and his band of dastardly bastards may have finally pulled their heads out the proverbial black hole.
But for the old school advocates, those who have been getting their teeth bashed in on the front lines of the cannabis crusade for the past several decades, the overall attitude is still oozing with apprehension. This is because ever since California legalized medical marijuana in 1996, there has been someone on the sidelines speculating about how pot is on the verge of going nationwide “within the next 10 years.” It is now 2018, and everyone is still waiting for something to happen. While most folks are hopeful that any given year will finally be the one where common sense prevails in the halls of Congress, longtime weed warriors have become calloused to the hype and promises, and are now of the opinion that “we’ll believe when we see it.”
But the situation is different these days than it was even five years ago. Now, some of the same Congressional leaders who made it their mission to prevent marijuana legalization during their time in office are now on our side. Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who once considered himself “unalterably opposed” to legalization, came out of the cannabis closet earlier this year when it was announced that he had joined the board of directors of the cannabis investment firm Acreage Holdings. At the time, Boehner acknowledged that he made a mistake by not supporting cannabis while he was a member of Congress, but vowed to lobby on behalf of the movement from the outside. “My thinking on cannabis has evolved,” Boehner said in a Twitter post.
Seven months later, Boehner is predicting that nationwide marijuana legalization in coming within the next five years. Where have we heard that before? No, seriously. Since assuming his new role in the cannabis trade, Boehner claims he has been on Capitol Hill trying to rally the troops in an effort to end prohibition. “I’ve been having more and more meetings with my friends and colleagues on the Hill about this — some of the most conservative politicians around and their views are evolving on cannabis, too, just like the American people,” he said during a speech at the American Cannabis Summit.
Still, considering Republican domination in Congress continues to put the kibosh on any marijuana-related measure that crosses their path, it is difficult to imagine many federal lawmakers are ready to switch gears. But Boehner, who also says he has met with President Trump on this issue, insists the necessary support will be there when it is needed the most. “I used to count votes,” he said. “I know where the votes are, and the votes will be there when the time is right.”
But the question of the hour is: When will the time be right?
Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the founding members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, believes marijuana legalization could hit late next year. With Democrats having a fair shot at taking back control of the U.S. House following the November election, Blumenauer is convinced this power could push pot over the top. “I see all the pieces coming together,” he told NBC News. “It’s the same arc we saw two generations ago with the prohibitions of alcohol.”
Last week, the lawmaker hedged his bet on this prediction by filing his “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana in the 116th Congress” with Democratic leadership. The plan, which is contingent on Democrats becoming the dominant force on the Hill, is to begin next session by resolving issues regarding cannabis and banking, providing veterans with access to medical marijuana and then bring out the big guns by introducing legislation to legalize the leaf nationwide. “With the marijuana policy gap diminished, after months of hearings and markups, the House should pass a full descheduling bill and work with Senate allies to guide the bill through Senate passage,” he wrote.
Ahh, yes, we can’t forget about the Senate. They could be a problem. Especially considering that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been branded the most powerful person in Congress, remains adamantly opposed to marijuana legalization. Earlier this year, when his federal hemp bill was hot and gaining momentum (whatever happened with that?), McConnell told reporters “I do not have any plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana.”
Even if the House is enthusiastic enough to approve a marijuana legalization bill in 2019, McConnell could quickly put a stop to it by just not giving it a fair shake in the Senate. Yet, Blumenauer is of the opinion that the work of the House for cannabis reform might cause him to cave.
“Our chances in the Senate depend on both the November elections and increased public pressure following House passage,” Blumenauer wrote in his Blueprint memo. “While the Senate has been slower on marijuana policy reform than the House and the American people, it now has almost 20 introduced bills in an effort to catch up with the House. We must build on this momentum.”
If the Democrats fail to win back the contested House seats, Boehner feels the issue is far from dead in the water. “I have a strong suspicion we won’t be waiting five years to see the federal government legalize cannabis,” he said. The former House speaker even alluded that he might have an idea when it will happen. “I’ve got to choose my words carefully. What I’m hearing behind closed doors is pretty sensitive.”
Whether 2019 will be the year marijuana legalization finally takes hold in the United States remains to be seen. But for the first time in years, marijuana advocates have a reason to be hopeful. The cannabis discussion has entered new territory, and it is a subject that can longer be brushed off as a pipe dream for the stoner nation. Congress will have no choice but to take notice soon. A new Gallup poll shows that 66 percent of the American population now supports making marijuana a part of the country’s taxed and regulated commerce.
TELL US, do you think nationwide cannabis legalization is coming?