Health Paul Armentano Politics

Democrats Need to Keep Their Promises on Marijuana Reform

The politics of ending cannabis prohibition are good. The policy is even better.
[WILLPOWER STUDIOS/ CC BY-SA 2.0]

By Paul Armentano | OtherWords

In this era of hyper-partisan politics, it’s difficult to find an issue that appeals to voters across party lines. But Democratic leaders successfully identified one in the run up to the 2020 election when they pledged to reform America’s archaic and unpopular marijuana prohibition laws.

“No one should be in jail because of marijuana,” then-candidate Biden insisted on the campaign trail. “As president, I will decriminalize cannabis use and automatically expunge prior convictions.”

Vote for Democrats “if you believe in decriminalizing cannabis,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer insisted just days prior to the election. “If I become majority leader, I will put this on the floor and it’s likely to pass.”

Nearly two years since, neither Biden nor Schumer has yet to make good on these promises.

The Biden administration has taken next to no substantive action — aside from firing several White House staffers who formerly consumed cannabis. In August, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre reiterated that the administration has no plans to prioritize the issue. “We don’t have anything new to share,” she said.

Although the president cannot legalize marijuana on his own, there are steps the president can take unilaterally, such as granting general amnesty to people with federal convictions for marijuana-related crimes. Thus far, Biden has simply chosen not to do so.

Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives did pass a bill repealing federal marijuana criminalization in April. Senate Democratic leaders introduced their own bill finally in July, but it hasn’t been brought to a vote.

Efforts to achieve more incremental reforms have languished. Thus far, Schumer has only allowed a vote on a research bill that received unanimous consent, but he hasn’t even moved the reconciled legislation to the president’s desk yet.

He has also declined to allow a vote on bipartisan legislation to amend federal finance laws so that state-licensed cannabis businesses can access banks and other financial services. This is despite his House colleagues advancing the legislation repeatedly — and despite over 40 of his Senate colleagues co-sponsoring the bill.

Democratic leadership’s continued inertia on this issue is unusually puzzling. Cannabis policy reform is simply good politics.

According to nationwide polling data compiled in 2021 by Quinnipiac University, 69 percent of adults — including 78 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans — believe that “the use of marijuana should be made legal.”

Separate polling, compiled by Morning Consult in April, further determined that a majority of Democrats, African Americans, and younger voters believe that federal action on cannabis should be among Congress’s “top” or more “important” legislative priorities.

These findings should come as no surprise. In 2020, majorities of voters in both traditionally blue states like New Jersey and traditionally red states like Montana legalized cannabis use by adults at the ballot box. In November, voters in a similar cross-section of states, such as in Maryland and Missouri, will similarly decide on marijuana legalization measures.

Supermajorities of Americans also agree that people with low-level marijuana convictions should have their records expunged and that cannabis-related businesses should “have access to banking services in states where cannabis is legal.”

In short, reforming America’s marijuana laws would galvanize the Democratic base while simultaneously appealing to many Republicans and independents — in a way that few if any other hot-button political issues would.

More importantly, repealing marijuana prohibition would adjust federal law to America’s rapidly changing cultural and legal landscape, where 19 states now legalize marijuana commerce and most others regulate its access for medical purposes.

Finally, ending prohibition would affirm America’s longstanding principles of federalism and Americans’ deep-rooted desires to be free from undue government intrusion into their daily lives.

It’s time for federal lawmakers — and for Democratic leaders in particular — to abandon the failed cannabis policies of the past and to acknowledge this reality.

Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano

Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

9 comments

  1. Thank you for this article. I’m very upset that people run on issues of importance to the American people, and then do nothing about that issue when they are in office. Here we have a plant that has so many uses, and hands are tied for research about the possibilities of cleaning our soil, and healing our bodies with hemp. Obviously the corporations are in control and do not want alternatives to their pharmaceuticals, and plastics. Sad state of affairs for our country.

  2. “Nearly two years since, neither Biden nor Schumer has yet to make good on these promises.”

    “The Biden administration has taken next to no substantive action — aside from firing several White House staffers who formerly consumed cannabis.”

    “…the administration has no plans to prioritize the issue. “We don’t have anything new to share,…”

    The definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

    “In short, [reforming] *promising to reform* America’s marijuana laws would galvanize the Democratic base while simultaneously appealing to many Republicans and independents — in a way that few if any other hot-button political issues would.”

    There, fify. Just like legalizing abortion, its more useful to use the promise of action as a shiny vote getting carrot to dangle before the electorate every single election, without ever actually doing anything.

  3. Multiple serious issues revolve around legalization. Here are a few:
    (1) A certain percentage of the population abuse marijauna, just as alcohol is abused to serious social negative consequences. 10%? Is this studied? How are the negative externalities of marijuana compensated by decriminalization and tax revenue?

    (2) Legalization for tax revenue is creating a major underground illegal enterprises. In other words, raise taxes very much, and the cheaper pot will flood the black market.

    (3) THC concentrations have been upped from 3% or so decades ago to 100 times potency. How will this be managed as a community and personal health issue?

    1. In reference to #2, Thats just not factual. Look at statistics in Colorado. Why don’t we do the same for all the drugs, recreational and medical, and come to a less comical conclusion about the negative externalities of cannabis?

  4. As I have said before, the main reason neither Biden the Beguiler nor any other “Democratic” (sic) Party will never keep their promise to legalize marijuana is their hatred of firearms owners is so overwhelmingly intense they intend to keep it criminalized as a tool of forcible disarmament.

    Note that possession of marijuana by a firearms owner — commonplace in states wherein marijuana is medically legal — is a federal felony mandating 10 years in prison, no parole, no appeal.

    The other reason marijuana will never be federally legalized in USia is the same reason abortion will never again be legalized, and all forms of birth control will soon be outlawed. This is the fact the U.S is already a de facto Christonazi theocracy, for which read Jeff Sharlet’s “The Family: the Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.” As one of Timothy Leary’s followers memorably told me in 1970, when I was doing the research for an assigned five-part series on the drug culture, “first good joint, you realize Christianity is not just utter sadism, it’s deliberately murdering the whole planet.”

    Thus marijuana will never be federally legalized. Nor will we ever be allowed universal health care, free college, adequate housing or any of the other humanitarian achievements that distinguish the civilized world from the USian Empire, which is ever-more-obviously the proud successor to the Third Reich.

    Indeed, as Barack the Betrayer taught us — a lesson in which we are about to schooled again by the Beguiler– “change we can believe in” is the most potent voter-turnout-discouraging Big Lie ever employed by either party. Thus too the “Democratic” (sic) Party shows its true post-JFK function: serving the Christonazi Republicans as their Fifth Column, shoehorning their Hitler-disciples into ever-more-absolute power while deftly pretending to do the opposite.

  5. A promise from a Democrat is called a lie Paul.

    I thought everyone knew that.

  6. Cannabis consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All-American pastime, alcohol.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Nationwide Federally Now!

    The “War on Cannabis” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our yearly tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Cannabis”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. Especially now, due to Covid-19. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Cannabis has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records. Especially, if they happen to be of the “wrong” skin color or they happen to be from the “wrong” neighborhood. Which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Cannabis is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less cannabis “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Cannabis Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Cannabis Legalization Initiative!

    1. Tragically most of us remain too naive to comprehend the truly bottomless evil of our 100-percent-Christonazified Masters, now the sole (and soul) owners of the federal government.

      What from any humanitarian perspective is outrageous tyranny is from our Masters’ perspective another of their sadistic god’s gifts of blessing to their now probably unstoppable conversion of USia to an electronically fenced death-camp for the entire 99 Percent; keeping marijuana illegal guarantees our overseer-overlords a permanent source of slaves for their for-profit prisons.

      The post-JFK function of the “Democratic” (sic) Party is to foster “change we can believe in” to obscure the infinite horror of what our Masters are doing to us. It is intended to do exactly what it is doing: it keeps us pacified until our enslavement becomes inescapable because effective resistance is no longer possible.

      The source of their playbook? Read “Mein Kampf” and Ayn Rand’s fictionalizations of its ecogenocidal ethos, the latter mandatory reading in most of today’s USian schools grades 6-12.

  7. My guess is that big Pharma is cooking up their own version of “patented synthetic controlled dose” canna-meds, much like Compass pathways is doing with “comp360”.

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