The word on the street is 2019 could be the year that all of the pieces fall into place for nationwide marijuana legalization. Public opinion on the issue of legal weed is at an all-time high, and the Democrats, which have shown the most support for furthering the movement, stand a better than average chance of gaining back control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the November election. Toss in the fact that several more states are expected to legalize for medicinal and recreational use when voters head to the ballot box in another week, and there is perhaps a perfect storm brewing in the nation’s capital that could lead to the end of pot prohibition.
“The train has left the station,” U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, one of the founders of a small advocacy group called the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told NBC News. “I see all the pieces coming together… It’s the same arc we saw two generations ago with the prohibitions of alcohol.”
It has been said that once public opinion on marijuana legalization consistently resides in the 60-65 percent range, Congress will have no choice but to consider the matter. This has happened now for the past few years. The latest Gallup poll finds that 66 percent of the population is in favor of marijuana being taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco.
And when it comes to politicians tendering their support, the majority of Democrats (74 percent) and Republicans (53 percent) are onboard. In a situation where the Democrats dominate in Congress, there is a solid chance that we could see more marijuana-related measures getting approved in the next legislative session. Considering this possibility, Representative Blumenauer recently filed his “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana” with Democratic leadership in hopes of pursuing an end to marijuana prohibition when everyone returns from the holiday break.
Meanwhile, marijuana legalization is picking up serious momentum at the state level. It has been less than ten years since Colorado and Washington became the first in the nation to legalize for recreational use. Since then, seven other states and the District of Columbia have done the same. And more states are following. Next month, Michigan is expected to become the first state in the Midwest to make weed legal for adults 21 and over. North Dakota is poised to make it entirely legal, as well.
Some states are on the verge of winning their lengthy battle to legalize comprehensive medical marijuana programs. Utah voters will decide on this issue next month, as will voters in Missouri.
But when it comes to ending marijuana prohibition at the national level, the party controlling the U.S. House only goes so far. Congressional leadership in both chambers goes a long way in pushing issues forward. The primary obstruction will be the Senate, which is led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Although he has been struggling to legalize hemp nationwide (still unsuccessful), the lawmaker has no interest in legalizing marijuana. But Blumenauer believes that if the Democrats build on the momentum the marijuana debate has gained over the years, they can change his mind.
Whether the concept of legal marijuana in the United States has a fighting chance really depends on the outcome of the election next month. Democrats must win back the House, and right now that is not a guarantee. A recent poll by the Washington Post found that 50 percent of the voters support Democrats, while 47 percent favor Republicans in filling the contested House seats.
It’s going to be a close one.