The future of marijuana legalization in the U.S. looks a lot brighter now that Democrats have reclaimed the House of Representatives following the 2018 Midterm Elections held this past November.
Former NFL player Colin Allred’s (D-TX) defeat of Pete Sessions (R-TX) in their North Dallas district marked what might be the brightest ray of hope for legalization efforts. Sessions had been the Chairman of the often overlooked but surprisingly important House Rules Committee Chairman in 2013.
Under Sessions’ leadership, the House Rules Committee has been “the place proposed marijuana laws go to die,” according to The Boston Globe.
Sessions reportedly prevented at least 34 pro-marijuana legislation proposals from reaching the House floor. Of these were measures to allow state marijuana businesses access to banking services, fortify protection against prosecution at the federal level for medical marijuana patients, allow a number of states to pursue marijuana legalization without federal resistance, and stop discrimination against medical marijuana patients within the U.S. Veterans Association.
Sessions’ loss in the 2018 Midterms allowed for Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) to take over his position as Rules Committee Chair. Unlike Sessions, McGovern has pledged not to block marijuana legalization out of respect for the voters and legislatures continuing to pass pro-marijuana legislation on local and state levels in spite of out-of-date federal statutes standing in their way.
Legal marijuana advocates already consider Sessions’ ousting a major step forward, despite newly re-elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) refusal to say whether or not she would bring pro-marijuana legalization to the House floor. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) told Rolling Stone, “All we need is to not have what happened with Republicans, where Republican leadership stopped the process. If they would have just stood out of the way we could have moved this stuff forward, and we’ll now be able to do that.”
While Sessions’ loss is undoubtedly a big win for legal weed, legalization proponents have even more cause to be hopeful going forward.
Other newly elected Democratic Representatives have also publicly come out in support of legalizing marijuana. Freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) recently tweeted a High Times article detailing her partnership with healthcare and tax reform expert Dan Riffle, who was once the director of federal policy for the Marijuana Policy Project but left his position due to the large-scale influence of big business on marijuana legislation. Ocasio-Cortez added, “#LegalizeIt, and demand justice for communities ravaged by the War on Drugs.”
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 10, 2019
The new House Democratic majority could also aid pro-marijuana legislation proposed in the Senate. Introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) early in June 2018, the States Act aims to support and protect individual states as they determine their own marijuana legislation. It was reportedly blocked by Pete Sessions during his tenure as the Chair of the House Rules Committee, despite support from President Trump. With Sessions no longer blocking the way, legalization efforts in the Senate like the States Act now have a crucial window to make progress in getting the States Act passed, and helping to pave the way for legal weed in the U.S.
Marijuana legalization in the U.S. still faces a number of obstacles. A memorandum issued by Rep. Blumenauer in October 2018 to the leaders of the Democratic party calling for the achievement of such “desperately needed” marijuana legislation reforms by the end of 2019 seems even too optimistic right now. But the new Democratic House majority seems by all accounts to be a huge breakthrough for legal weed.
Time will tell, but if there was ever a time to be hopeful, it’s probably now.