For Dems to get any kind of comprehensive cannabis legalization policy on the books before the end of the year, the bill could end up highly watered down and ultimately defeat its purpose.
Well, it finally happened. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and his pot-friendly cronies introduced their long-awaited federal marijuana legalization bill (Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act) last month, aiming to repair the damages done by the drug war while also creating a capitalistic environment allowing the herb to join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco. It’s a bill that has advocates split. Big surprise, right?
Some are obviously all for it, as it beats prohibition. Others, however, are less impressed with the details and want the measure to undergo a severe overhaul before it ever reaches the president’s desk, the proverbial end of the line. But not so fast, maverick. Does Schumer’s bill have what it takes to go the distance in 2021?
By Senator Schumer’s own admission, probably not. Although the Democrats have the majority in both the House and the Senate, the margins are slim, the animosity is fierce, and the divisiveness is strong. And then there’s the filibuster — an old Senate rule that demands a supermajority for controversial issues. That means Schumer needs at least 60 votes in the upper chamber for his bill to pass, which because of all the reasons mentioned above, he doesn’t have.
At least not right now.
“We don’t have the votes necessary at this point,” Schumer said during a recent press conference. “But we have a large majority of our caucus for it. We’re going to show it to the others and say, ‘Well, what don’t you like? What do you like? And we’ll see if we can get the support.’ We’re going to put our muscle behind it, all our effort behind it, and we’re going to get this done ASAP.”
The lack of votes is precisely why the cannabis bill wasn’t actually formally introduced but rather opened for discussion and public comment through the beginning of September. That’s when Schumer will presumably use all the input he’s collected, revise the bill and formally introduce pot legislation that is more palatable to America. And to him, we say good luck with that! Seriously. We hope it works out.
However, often, as the proverb goes, “too many cooks spoils the broth.” If Schumer’s big idea is to negotiate with the people, his peers, and everyone else, for that matter, on how the nation should legalize weed in a way that is best for the country, he will end up with a mud sandwich. As we have learned ever since marijuana legalization started happening in the US, everyone wants something different, and nobody is ever happy.
Still, Schumer’s hope is that he can reach a consensus of sorts and guide this legislation to the finish line.
“We’re now going around to our colleagues saying, ‘Would you sign onto the bill? And if you don’t like what’s in the bill and want some modifications, tell us,'” Schumer said last month during an appearance on ABC’s The View. “I want to get this done. And I think we will get it done because it’s so, so overwhelmingly supported by the American people.”
The one sure thing preventing the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act or some tweaked version of it from going the distance in 2021 is bipartisanship or a lack thereof. Congress has been locking horns all year on a wide range of issues. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still has more influence and power than Schumer, despite his demotion. Whether the bill gets a fair shot is really up to him.
And that’s not likely to happen.
McConnell hasn’t given any indication that he’s changed his anti-pot position in the past six months, nor is he too excited about doing anything to help further the Democratic agenda. On the flip side, however, he recently surprised Democrats by assisting in reaching a $1 trillion infrastructure deal.
Does that mean there’s hope?
At the risk of sounding pessimistic, probably not much. Even if Schumer’s marijuana legalization bill would happen to miraculously pass both chambers of Congress and land on President Biden’s desk for a signature, the chances of it getting signed are slim. Biden said during his campaign that he would support decriminalization but didn’t feel full-blown legalization was the way to go. Last month, White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified that the president hasn’t budged. “I have spoken in the past about the president’s views on marijuana,” Psaki said. “Nothing has changed. There’s no new endorsements of legislation to report today.”
By all accounts, we will just have to wait until after September to see the results from months of public discussion. Unfortunately, for Democrats to get any kind of comprehensive cannabis legalization policy on the books before the end of the year, the bill could end up highly watered down and ultimately defeat its purpose.