Thursday, November 30, 2023

What Needs To Happen For Marijuana To Become Legal At The Federal Level

Statistics show that only about 4% of bills filed in Congress every year will become law. And there are literally thousands of bills introduced each year.

If the question of whether the United States should legalize marijuana at the federal level was put to a vote tomorrow, it would pass with flying colors. At least in the court of public opinion. Some of the latest national polls indicate that around 66% of the population supports the idea of weed being taxed and regulated like alcohol. Unfortunately, though, there is presently no such ballot process that allows the citizens of this country to cast a vote intended to change the federal laws in America. 

No sir, it’s up to our elected officials in Congress to do that, so it sometimes takes a small miracle to get anything accomplished. This means controversial issues like marijuana reform are often ignored. Yet, the “we’re not hearing it” attitude is changing. Some believe weed will be legal nationwide within the next two years. But what exactly needs to transpire on Capitol Hill for that to happen? 

At its most basic level, marching a marijuana-related bill into the federal government is a relatively simple process. There are committee meetings, votes, hearings, more votes, and, if the majority of Congress can agree, the President of the United States gets to chime in. But toss a few hundred politicians into a room and what do you get? A bunch of individual and party agendas fighting for power. So, it stands to reason that it’s not exactly easy to get any piece of legislation passed through the chambers of Congress. Most of them are as good as dead soon after they are introduced. 

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In fact, statistics show that only about 4% of bills filed in Congress every year will become law. And there’s not just a handful of legislative items being dealt with either. There are literally thousands of bills introduced each year. It doesn’t take an oddsmaker to see just how difficult it can be for a controversial piece of legislation calling for the end of marijuana prohibition to get a fair shake.

But, as with any issue, it is never going to get any floor time if a lawmaker doesn’t keep drafting, filing and pleading their case. Thankfully, more lawmakers are doing that these days concerning marijuana. But it takes a lot more than just a handful of diehard troopers to get it done. 

Photo by Architect of the Capitol via Wikimedia

Once a bill is submitted to the House of Representatives, it is stamped with an identification number and sent over to committee for review. The chairman of the committee then determines if the issue should receive any consideration. He or she may choose to ignore it, or it could get a “mark up,” which would put it in line for further review. If the committee votes favorably for the measure, it is cleared to go before the full House for debate. But the Speaker has the final say on whether the bill gets put on the docket or if it is cast out into political purgatory.

Let’s just say that a bill calling for legal cannabis the end of nationwide marijuana prohibition is given the proverbial OK by the Speaker. It then has the opportunity to be discussed before hundreds of lawmakers. This is where arguments are presented against the language and amendments are introduced. A voice vote is often used to see if enough lawmakers support those concerns. A full vote is next. As long as the majority (218 of 435) supports the bill, it moves on to the Senate for review.

We watched this part of the process in action earlier this year with the SAFE Banking Act. The measure cleared the House in a vote of 321 to 103. It is now awaiting some kind of response from the Senate. 

It is then up to the Senate Majority Leader to determine whether the bill gets any further consideration. It could be quickly snuffed out and left for dead. Or it could be passed without issue. Most of the time, however, the Senate has its own idea about how the legislation should read, so it either files its own version or makes amendments to the House bill until it is satisfied.

If modifications are made, the bill must take a trip back to the House for concurrence. Any significant adjustments would need to be negotiated by a small conference committee. The goal here is to take the House and Senate version and come up with a single agreement. If either chamber rejects the language, there is more than a good chance that it is going to fail miserably. 

RELATED: Support For Marijuana Legalization Reaches All-Time High Despite Vaping Illness

But let’s say both the House and Senate are happy with the deal. This is when the bill is shipped over to the President. He or she then has 10 days to take action. If not, the bill automatically becomes law. If the President vetoes it, however, the bill is dead. That is unless both chambers can somehow come together and revive it with a two-thirds override. But that’s a big IF. Congress has only overridden just over 100 vetoes in American history.

The next President could get the ball rolling on nationwide marijuana legalization a bit more efficiently. While the President cannot just swoop in and legalize weed in his or her first 100 days of office, they can initiate the process to have the herb removed from the Controlled Substances Act. Some of the 2020 presidential candidates have indicated that they would do just that. But the Democrats will need to knock President Trump out of office before that is even possible.


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