Now that the Democrats are in control of the House of Representatives, marijuana will legalized at the federal level.
This is not a partisan take — and nor is it particularly fiery — but a basic observation. All the practical obstacles are gone, the ideological ones too few and too insubstantial to matter, and the time to do this has long ago passed.
Don’t believe me? Fine, but if Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the lawmaking body which she nominally controls can’t or won’t do this very simple thing — if there cannot be bipartisan agreement on this extremely popular issue, on which lawmakers as far apart on the ideological spectrum as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Florida Rep. Matt Gatez, who is a borderline Alex Jones impersonator, actually hold accord, then it can not and will not ever get done. Ever.
You may point out that top House Democratic leadership have made clear how very little marijuana legalization matters to them. You may also point out the preemptive buck-passing: Back in September, Pelosi herself said marijuana reform was “up to” President Trump, which was a neat way of pinning the blame for House committee chairs like Pete Sessions blocking cannabis reform bills from even having a hearing on the Republican party’s big boss baby. But they’re in charge now, and Sessions is gone. That means the pure obstructionism that’s been blocking things for the recent past should be gone.
The guy who has Sessions’s old job, the very important chairmanship of the House Rules Committee, is Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern. His district included the state’s very first recreational marijuana dispensaries, which proved so popular they opened to hours-long lines and sold literal millions of dollars worth of cannabis in their first weeks. McGovern has already said that he’ll do more than Sessions did and allow the House to at least debate any marijuana reform bills, like the descheduling bill McGovern has signed onto as a cosponsor.
There’s that bill to consider. But there are others. Look, look for yourself how many there are! Last year there were 80. This year, with the session barely three weeks out, there are six. Yes, one is cheekily named H.R. 420. There are too many bills from too many lawmakers to block. If nothing else, this war can be won by attrition.
Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Majority Whip James Clyburn may truly feel that legalization is no big deal or may just be posturing disinterested for some arcane political reason — it really doesn’t matter. Their House is poised to at least bring the issue to a debate, and then to a vote. Sixty-two percent of American voters want legalization. Legalization means politicians can deliver all of their favorite things — jobs, tax revenue, economic opportunity! — without really doing anything. There is a market for marijuana now; it’s an illicit one. All politicians have to do is the legislative equivalent of flipping a switch and then walk away, awash in the glow of the very nice thing they’ve done.
I will not say it will happen this spring, or this summer, or, possibly, even this year. This isn’t any kind of priority during a government shutdown — or during the threat of one — and so it is unlikely to happen at the expense of basics like ensuring the federal workers who literally keep the country from descending into chaos for $500 a week don’t have to drive for Uber or stand in food lines.
Of course, anything the House does is only half-done. In this country, sausage is made in the bicameral way, and a House-made and passed legalization bill would need to head to the Senate before it could hope for the presidential scribble and become law. This isn’t bad news, either, and should result in a win.
You may argue that the Senate is run by a usurper and an obstructionist, the kind of man who has the “factious tempers, local prejudices, and sinister designs” that the Framers warned us about. And on that, you may be right. But even Mitch McConnell and his hemp pen would be hard-pressed to find either a politically expedient or morally valid reason to block a Senate vote on any House legalization bill. There will be votes in the negative, maybe even on both sides of the aisle. But even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, prohibition’s best friend, finally ditched her opposition. No, if marijuana legalization comes to a vote, it will pass. It will head to Trump’s desk. And Trump will sign it, if for no other reason that he likes things that are big and strong and popular. He will get to babble on about jobs, and he’ll even get to talk about how his very smart move kept the very dangerous border safer. “We grow the best marijuana, the best, believe me, those bad hombres are out of business! Sorry!”
All the pieces are in place. All that’s needed to get this Rube Goldberg machine going is the slightest of triggers. If it can’t happen now, it never will. But it will.