It was not that long ago when the subject of cannabis, or the legalization thereof, was considered taboo inside the national newsrooms covering the happenings of the day.
If the word “marijuana” did happen to come spilling from the mouth of a nightly anchor, it was to report on the degeneracy of a doped–up underworld and its criminal deeds. But times have changed. Now, not a day goes by when the pot topic doesn’t make it into a news cycle. What’s more, the coverage on this plant, which was once considered off-limits in the realm of journalism, is mostly favorable. Most recently, CNN published an analysis on the state of marijuana legalization in the United States, calling this moment in time the “tipping point” in the grand scheme of nationwide pot reform.
In the piece, Analyst Z. Byron Wolf calls to attention the fact that voters in Oklahoma – one of the reddest states in the union – just approved an initiative this week to legalize medical marijuana. “That will make 30 states with some kind of legalized marijuana,” he wrote, adding that “the entire West Coast of the United States has legalized the drug,” and “the entire northern US border abuts a country (Canada) that has legalized marijuana for recreational use.” Wolf points out that two more states will vote on the issue in November. Michigan has a chance of going fully legal, while Utah is gunning for medicinal use.
But the primary reason CNN seems to believe the nation is close to ending federal marijuana prohibition is “Candidates and Democrats, in particular, are taking note and trying to use the issue to their advantage.” Wolf talks about how Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Cory Booker of New Jersey have introduced their respective proposals in Congress aimed at legalizing the leaf at the national level. Yet, he fails to mention that Booker’s bill, despite picking up a handful of co-sponsors like Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, has been lingering in the Senate without any action for more than a year. Schumer’s bill was just introduced this week. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hasn’t had enough time yet to disregard it. But trust me, he will.
Earlier this year, McConnell, who is pushing to legalize industrial hemp at the national level, told reporters that he has no intention of getting behind a bill aimed at legalizing marijuana. “It is a different plant. It has an illicit cousin which I choose not to embrace,” he said. Considering that McConnell is the one who largely decides which issues the Senate debates, marijuana legalization still seems like a long shot. As I wrote in a recent piece for Forbes, “it may still be too early to get excited about the possibility of marijuana legalization going nationwide. There is still plenty of opposition in Congress that can and likely will prevent this much-needed reform from happening anytime soon.”
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Perhaps the most humorous aspect of the CNN piece is where Wolf concludes his “analysis” by saying “boy does it feel like things are moving fast.” But the truth of the matter is things are not moving fast at all. The United States has more than 80 years of marijuana prohibition under its belt. And the past four decades have been filled with hammer-fisted law enforcement shenanigans. It has only been within the past few years that weed has started to find some mainstream acceptance. But there are still plenty of Americans going to jail every year for marijuana possession. Some of the latest data shows those numbers in the hundreds of thousands. And regardless of whether the marijuana legalization issue is beginning to find a place on the political platforms of Democrats and Republicans, it still has very little support on Capitol Hill.
So while it might feel “like the tipping point on marijuana legalization,” it going to take a whole hell of a lot more to make it happen.