While the 2018 midterm elections focused mainly on gubernatorial and Senate races, three states made big progress on the legalization of marijuana. Utah and Missouri voted to legalize medicinal marijuana, and Michigan voted to join nine other states who have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
While individual states have made big steps to end the prohibition of marijuana, the federal government has not been so progressive.
When the Trump Administration took office in 2017, marijuana advocates were not sure what to expect. Trump has been quoted saying that he would leave marijuana legislation to the states, but he initially picked an Attorney General that is vigorously anti-marijuana. As the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that prohibited the federal government from interfering with states that had legalized marijuana sales.
As a senator, Sessions once said that marijuana was a “very real danger” that “ought not to be legalized.” He has frequently described marijuana as a gateway drug and mentions weed during debates about the opioid epidemic.
With Sessions out, the future of marijuana legalization and prosecution is unclear.
Luckily, there are many members of Congress and other politicians who do not have such close-minded views as Sessions. The following eight politicians are fighting for marijuana legalization and research throughout the country. A few of these politicians have flirted with Presidential runs, and with their help, we might see the federal legalization of marijuana in our lifetime.
Federal prosecutors may be trying to halt the progression of marijuana legalization, but at the local level, some prosecutors have a different attitude. Take Larry Krasner, the District Attorney for the city of Philadelphia. Krasner was elected in 2017 on a progressive platform with endorsements from celebrities like John Legend and Shaun King.
Soon after taking office, Krasner instructed staff to immediately “drop any cases that are simply marijuana possession.” That was over 50 cases throughout the city. In August 2018, prosecutors throughout the city declined to press marijuana possession charges against 293 people. Marijuana was decriminalized throughout the city of Philadelphia in 2014, but Krasner’s policy takes the initiative one step further.
Despite opposition from Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, there are many politicians hoping to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. Leading the way is United States Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer, a Democrat representing New York, introduced the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act on April 20, 2018. (Nice.) If it is passed, this bill would:
Remove marijuana off the list of controlled substances at the federal level
Offer incentives to states for expanding their expungement/record sealing programs to help remove marijuana-related offenses off of residents’ records
Invest in research that would look at how THC affects the brain and driving ability
Specifically help women and minorities own businesses in the marijuana industry
The Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act would not make marijuana legal throughout the country or remove trafficking charges if people moved marijuana into states where marijuana was still illegal.
Schumer’s bill is co-sponsored by Bernie Sanders, Tammy Duckworth, and Tim Kaine, among others. It has been introduced but not voted on yet.
Two months after the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act was introduced in the Senate, another pro-marijuana bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. The Marijuana Data Collection Act was introduced by Representative Tusli Gabbard of Hawaii. The bill would encourage scientific study for the effects of the legalization of marijuana, not only on health, but also on issues like criminal justice and the economy. This bill is commonly referred to as an “information bill” rather than a “marijuana bill,” allowing both sides of the aisle to objectively look at the facts, rather than old stigmas, of marijuana legalization.
Rep. Gabbard has been fighting to end the federal prohibition of marijuana, along with other progressive issues like Medicare for All, since she was first elected to Congress in 2013. She was recently re-elected to her position, giving us another two years toward working for marijuana rights, research, and reform.
Sanders has consistently backed laws aiming to end the federal prohibition of marijuana. In 2015, he was the first Presidential candidate of a major party to call for the legalization of marijuana. When asked about legalization, he said, “I would vote yes because I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses. We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana.”
Cory Booker is certainly a person to watch before the 2020 election. The senator from New York could put his name in the ring and run for President. When it comes to marijuana, he has consistently joined the likes of Sanders and other Senators to stand up for marijuana reform.
In 2017, Booker introduced the Senate version of the Marijuana Justice Act. This bill would go further than Schumer’s Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act by:
Legalizing marijuana at the federal level
Expunging records for people with federal marijuana convictions
Reducing funds for states where marijuana is not legalized and records show disparate incarceration rates for marijuana crimes based on race
The Marijuana Justice Act does more than legalize marijuana; it works to undo policies and attitudes that have disproportionately incarcerated minorities for low-level drug crimes since the beginning of the War on Drugs.
Barbara Lee introduced the House version of Booker’s Marijuana Justice Act. Lee is a Democrat representing California’s 13th Congressional District. She was just re-elected to her position, one she has been serving since 1998. In January 2018, she also introduced the REFER Act, which would prevent the federal government from interfering with states who have legalized marijuana for possession and distribution.
Lee is someone to watch. She recently announced plans to run for the Democratic Caucus Chairman in the House of Representatives. If elected, she will serve on the Democratic Party’s fourth-highest position and be the first African-American woman to do so.
These politicians offer hope for marijuana advocates and patients who rely on the use of medicinal marijuana to treat diseases and chronic conditions. If you call any of these politicians your representative, be sure to reach out to them and thank them for their contribution to one day ending the prohibition of marijuana in America.