For the past six years, states have been legalizing marijuana for recreational use. This exercise in common sense has been, for the most part, considered an “experiment.” But with states like New York poised to legalize in 2019, it is apparent now that legal weed is a permanent fixture in our culture and going nationwide. However, the federal government’s response to marijuana is still the same: It’s illegal, they don’t like it, they don’t want it. But there is pressure mounting for this to change in the New Year, and cannabis advocates have infiltrated Capitol Hill to see that it does.
Some believe that the 116th Congress will be the first to take action on legal weed. Cannabis Industry leaders say legal pot has become a bipartisan issue and that lawmakers are motivated to eliminate federal controls.
“This is a place that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree that it shouldn’t be the place of the federal government to interfere,” Aaron Smith, director at National Cannabis Industry Association, told The Hill.
Now that Democrats have taken back control of the U.S. House of Representatives and leading sandbaggers of the cannabis issue, like House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, have been run out on a rail, lobbyists hope to get measures passed that give pot-related businesses access to risk free banking, tax breaks and ultimately move the nation into a fully legal system. Many feel Pete Sessions’ replacement, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, will lead to these issues moving forward.
There is still a good chance, though, that cannabis advocates will be let down. So far, Democratic leadership has not come out and said whether marijuana will be one of their primary concerns in the next session. If they don’t take the reins on it, chances are nothing will happen.
“Most Democrats would rather ignore it,” said Kevin Sabet with the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Some of this stuff is more likely than it has been, but it’s far from a done deal.”
Although marijuana could be embraced by the House in 2019, nothing has changed in the upper chamber. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the guiding light to industrial hemp legalization, which was just signed into last this week, but hasn’t expressed any interest in doing the same with marijuana. In fact, it was only earlier this year that he said he wouldn’t get behind a bill aimed at legalizing nationwide.
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Still, lawmakers like Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the leading voices for pot reform on the Hill, believes that progress on this issue in the lower chamber will have some influence in the Senate.
But the cannabis industry is now doing its part. The fact that there are now an increasing number of lobbyists on the Hill rallying support for bills like the STATES Act is a good sign that the weed people are learning how to influence lawmakers to make the change – they have to pay for their support. Some of the latest data shows the marijuana lobby has given more than $3 million to Congress is the last year.