While Maine is struggling to begin it's recreational marijuana market, lawmakers at the federal level are experiencing their own issues regarding cannabis legislature.
For the first time in the history of the House of Representatives, members will vote on federal cannabis legalization. The bill would remove marijuana from the list of federally controlled substances, expunge a number of criminal offenses relating to cannabis, and leave specific regulations up to individual states to legislate themselves. After decades of experiencing the negative consequences of cannabis prohibition, such as dramatically increased rates of incarceration, many feel as if the bill is long overdue and is necessary in repairing relationships with those who have been affected by the failed War on Drugs. With a Democratic majority in the House, legalization hopefuls are confident the legislature will pass, but further obstacles and opposition are inevitable.
While the House may have never voted on federal legalization specifically, proposals to remove and/or change marijuana’s status as a Schedule 1 substance have been tried as early as 1972 and as recently as 2019, with the latter offering numerous proposed bills within a single year span. All previous attempts have been met with defeat, historically due to the DEA’s unwillingness to act despite substantial support from the states and backing from the science and health communities.
Through the continued inaction of the DEA spanning decades, there is little evidence to suggest that this attempt will be more successful than the previous ones. At the federal level, there appears to be a trend of not wishing to disturb the status quo; with marijuana already being a billion-dollar industry even with it’s tenuous federal status, full legalization will undoubtedly bring the industry to new heights. The reality is that misinformation, bias, and outright ignorance regarding marijuana continues to pollute politics at all levels, because how else would a substance that is medically administered in 33 states also be on the federal list of highly dangerous drugs that hold no medically-acceptable merit. While it is significant that the bill progressed as far as it did, one must also realize the unlikeliness of the Republican-dominated Senate approving such provisions, with anti-marijuana rhetoric being present in a number of conservative politician’s policies.
Also in federal marijuana news is that Democratic nominees Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have publicly announced their administration’s stance towards marijuana. In the pair’s first official joint interview, Harris and Biden both expressed an interest in a “decriminalization” policy for marijuana. Again, similar to the House’s legalization bill, this concept first appears positive and brings hope to those wishing to see less restrictive cannabis laws nationally, but is much less promising than at first glance.
Upon further inspection and taking into account both individual’s track record in regards to drug policy, it is clear that the Biden administration will most likely not be the champions of marijuana reform that many expect and desire them to be. Harris is noted for her past desires to increase the presence of police in public, and Biden is known for his staunch anti-marijuana, pro-police policies in the past decades, as well as specifically being a key player in the 1994 crime bill which has now shown to unfairly target African-American and other minority communities.
While Biden has made efforts to change his voting record and seems to understand that marijuana and general drug reform is on the forefront for issues this upcoming election, he continues to avoid advocating for full legalization, a move which puts him at odds with not only his party but a sizable portion of the nation. While decriminalization would definitely be a step forward and undeniable progress towards the end goal of federal legalization, one has to question why, when the country’s public opinion on marijuana is as majorly positive as it has ever been, is legalization still too unrealistic?
An answer to this may be seen in President Trump’s recent warning to Republican lawmakers to not include marijuana initiatives on state ballots, as the Democratic turnout has been shown to substantially increase when marijuana is being decided on. This concept draws similarities to the inaction of the DEA, who in many cases have outright refused to take any steps towards removing marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance despite overwhelming evidence and support. Rather than lose control over marijuana’s accessibility and status within the United States, the DEA refuses to even discuss the possibility of changing it’s scheduling and instead continues to kick the proverbial can down the road, for another administration to deal with.
Biden and Hariss favoring of decriminalization vs legalization appears to be another case of wanting to avoid the hard topics and being more concerned with obtaining control than it is about true marijuana reform. Rather than push for full legalization, which would likely be met with significant opposition from anti-marijuana advocates and eliminate those staunchly opposed to the substance as potential swing voters, decriminalization is a softer, safer route of accomplishing potentially similar things that is much less likely to generate the emotional and voting response that legalization would.
The unfortunate reality is that decriminization is not the same thing as legalization. While something may be better than nothing, it is worth noting that Rep. Earl Blumenauer, who is among the most prominent of marijuana reform advocates, referred to the Biden/Harris decriminalization plan as “meaningless”. Blumenauer continues, highlighting the pair’s outdated approach: “It is demanded by the American public. It’s no longer controversial... For the campaign to talk about decriminalization is essentially meaningless. Your grandmother is for decriminalization.”
With the election less than two months away, it is imperative for Biden to improve his perspective and political stance on marjiuana before potentially taking office. As seen in the past two administrations, nominees often use marijuana reform as a talking point to appear more appealing to voters, but often chose to avoid delegating on significant reform issues and instead stick with the status quo and refuse potential controversy; it can only be hoped that whoever takes office this November understands the establishing normalcy of marijuana in a majority of states, and plans on expanding that concept nationwide.
Maine Potcast Contributor