Earlier this month, U.S. Senator Corey Booker, D-N.J., introduced a bill to get marijuana legalized at the federal level. Called the ‘Marijuana Justice Act,’ this legislation would make cannabis legal across the country and protect the rights of states to make their own laws to regulate their industries. However, his bill faces one rather large obstacle.
It has practically zero chance of becoming law in Washington’s current political climate, and media outlets, political analysts, and every professional with a chance to talk about it are not shy to acknowledge this as fact. According to Politico, it has “virtually no chance.” Even the most optimistic advocates of legalization agree. Rolling Stone said it “faces an uphill battle,” one impossible to win.
The GOP is Boss
Attempting to get cannabis legalized federally in today’s political environment appears an insurmountable hurdle. The GOP is actively suppressing all legislative and congressional actions in favor of it. In this, the 115th U.S. Congress, which runs until January 2019, Republicans are controlling both houses. They hold 52 seats of the Senate’s 100. Democrats have 46 seats, Independents only two.
The advantage is even bigger for Republicans in the House, who hold 55.2 percent of seats, or 240 of 435. It continues: Every one of the GOP leadership hails from states where even medical cannabis is illegal and recreational use still taboo. Mitch McConnell, the Senate leader, comes from Kentucky. Senate President and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hails from Indiana, and Paul Ryan, House Speaker, originates from Wisconsin.
President Trump’s Stand
The support, or lack thereof, of President Donald Trump, is another factor to consider. He initially appeared in favor of medical marijuana, but he has not said much on the issue for some time. Nobody quite knows where he stands, but the Department of Justice is making its intentions very clear. His administration wants federal laws enforced, and cannabis remains an illegal Schedule 1 drug.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in particular, has much to say about keeping marijuana illegal. He has made his views widely known and yes, he is yet another GOP leader from a state still enforcing prohibition, namely Alabama. There is another, the final obstacle for this bill to face, being the state legislatures. Any effort to receive state legislative approval will meet resistance.
Republicans control 67 partisan state legislative chambers, as well. This is almost double the 31 that the Democrats control, which is a new GOP record. Besides unlikely support for marijuana legalization at the GOP, there is still the fact that these Republican-dominated states are able to encourage political discourse within their local jurisdictions, and to date, this discourse has been primarily anti-marijuana.
Mounting Tensions over the War on Drugs
Although the likelihood of the Marijuana Justice Act gaining approval is very low, Booker’s bill is fostering public debate on the issue. Similar attempts to legalize the marijuana industry at the federal level have helped to push the debate forward, including those of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Booker takes it further, though.
His bill tackles issues that are rising to the surface more frequently than ever before in the debate on the War on Drugs. In fact, the Marijuana Justice Act would penalize states that disproportionately arrest and incarcerate minorities for cannabis offenses. On his Facebook page, Newark’s former mayor made his position very clear, as Booker had this to say about it:
“The failed War on Drugs has resulted in millions of nonviolent drug offenders in jail and saddled with permanent criminal records.” He continued to state that the war had come “at an incredible cost of lost human potential, torn apart families and communities, and taxpayer dollars. The effects of the drug war have had a disproportionately devastating impact on Americans of color and the poor.”
The battle continues.