In an ordinary week in June, advocates for legalization celebrated two notable victories: A Democrat in the Senate decided to support legalization and the State of Missouri moved another step closer to decriminalizing medical marijuana. On a normal Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Californian Democrat, said she was no longer going to oppose recreational weed.
For cannabis advocates in the forefront state of the legalization movement, this was a notable achievement. Furthermore, the Missouri House advanced a bill that, under specific conditions, would allow citizens 18-years and older to buy cannabis online for medical reasons. Despite this excitement, though, pot remains federally illegal, still classified as a Schedule I drug with the likes of LSD and heroin.
However, public pressure is mounting. Growing support for legalization is forcing legislators to start backing marijuana reform. This is the voice of Keith Stroup, founder of leading cannabis advocacy group NORML, or the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. In an interview on a Thursday in spring, Stroup explained what was occurring.
“Realistically, what you are seeing is a reflection of higher polling numbers that marijuana legislation has been getting over the last five years.” More and more, people want pot to be legal. Opponents argue that campaign contributions cannot keep up with pro-weed support. “Big money is the answer,” said Carla Lowe, founder of Citizens against Legalizing Marijuana, a group based in California.
“That is the reason you have seen movement today,” Lowe added. She also said that those in support of legalizing cannabis seldom, if ever discuss “any of the social ails that come from the further use of marijuana.” So where does the debate stand? Can consumers buy cannabis online yet? Will the federal government bow to public pressure and finally legalize weed at the national level?
What Exactly Happened?
Feinstein, who is also the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, entered the discussion during an interview with McClatchy, saying that the federal government should stay out of California’s cannabis laws and refrain from interfering. Back in 2016, voters approved a ballot referendum, called Proposition 64, to legalize weed recreationally. This law came into effect on New Year’s Day.
In speaking with McClatchy, Feinstein said that, “Federal law enforcement agents should not arrest Californians who are adhering to California law.” Although Feinstein always supported the use of marijuana for medical reasons, she openly confesses to being a longtime adversary of legalizing cannabis completely. She was opposing Proposition 64 as recently as a year ago.
According to Feinstein, she was against the measure because she felt it lacked sufficient protections for both motorists and children. Now, however, Feinstein is campaigning for a fifth full term and is facing a priority challenge from progressive state senator, Kevin de Leon. At some point, she changed her mind, claiming that her about-turn came after meeting with several constituents.
“My state has legalized marijuana for personal use,” Feinstein told McClatchy, “and, as California continues to implement this law, we need to ensure we have strong safety rules to prevent impaired driving and youth access, similar to other public health issues like alcohol.” Her comments came the same day that the Missouri House, full of Republicans, approved a bill that legalized medical pot.
In Missouri, lawmakers are scrambling to rush the bill through the legislature, before advocacy groups have a chance to gather sufficient signatures to put the questions on a ballot initiative during the next election. Jim Neely, a physician and GOP state representative was the one to sponsor the Missouri bill. He spoke at length with the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
In this interview, Neely said the bill was intended to help patients who are on the verge of death to relieve their pain and suffering. “This is the right thing to do for Missouri,” he said. Approved in a 112-44 vote, the bill makes it legal for patients 18-years or older to use medical cannabis if they have “debilitating diseases or conditions,” such as PTSD, cancer, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, among others.
Those against legalization argued that passing the bill would make access to cannabis easier for children, along with adults who might possibly carry concealed weapons. From the Missouri House, the bill is now on its way to the state senate. If it passes there, Missouri would officially become the 31st state to legalize marijuana for medical patients in the United States.
What Do Voters Want?
Without doubt, the majority of United States citizens support legalization, and momentum for the movement continues to grow unabated. According to a poll released by Quinnipiac University last month, 63 percent of voters support complete legalization. An overwhelming 93 percent favor legalizing medical weed. That is slightly more than a Pew Research poll conducted in January.
Pew Research found 61 percent of people support legalization. These numbers have been increasing steadily since 2000, when public opinion was only 31 percent in favor of it. “It used to be difficult to convince elected officials this was an issue they can deal with and not be persecuted by voters at the poll,” Stroup explained.
He also said, “But now those elected officials who do not stand up are risking being punished at the polls the next time voters show up.” In the last few years, Karmen Hanson, a marijuana policy analyst from the National Conference of State Legislatures, said that more states are passing “comprehensive marijuana programs,” and that the movement has “been building steadily.”
Support Growing in the United States
These days, medical pot is permissible in 30 states, as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the District of Columbia. A further 16 states allow cannabis products only if they contain low traces of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component in weed that makes users stoned, and only for limited medical purposes. Only Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas and South Dakota have no legal laws.
Washington D.C. and nine states allow marijuana for recreational purposes. Vermont recently joined the fray, becoming the first state this year to legalize recreational weed through its state legislature. Cannabis advocates, such as Stroup, say that the move by Vermont creates new opportunities for recreational marijuana legislation.
“That is a big step forward, because only about half of the states in the U.S. offer a voter initiative,” said Stroup. “Now that public support is being reflected in public officials, it opens all states up for serious legalization efforts.” This year, more states will likely join Vermont. By last month, lawmakers had introduced legislation for recreational use in at least 21 states.
Currently, 14 states are considering proposals for medical weed. Several of these bills did not make it this year, but four states at least might yet vote on ballot initiatives for some type of legalization during midterm elections this year. States such as Nebraska, Missouri, Georgia and Maryland can only vote on such initiatives if the legislature first approves the question.
Andrew Acosta, a campaign consultant who tirelessly put effort into blocking Proposition 64 in California, warned that using ballot initiatives instead of the legislature to legalize marijuana could result in an array of unintended consequences. He said that, to supporters, legalization “sounds great, but what happens after that?” People are now dealing with taxation, regulatory and banking issues.
Hesitancy of the Federal Government
The federal government remains resolute in its opposition to the efforts of states to legalize marijuana. Back in January, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded Obama-era guidelines that restricted federal agencies from intervening in states that choose to legalize, effectively protecting them from federal prosecution and allowing consumers to buy cannabis online if their state permits it.
Sessions is famous for his vehemence toward legalization. As a senior administration official under Trump and a senator, he raised concerns about pot’s impact on health and public safety. In a Senate hearing in 2016, he claimed legalization a “very real danger.” At the time, Sessions said, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized.”
Buy Cannabis Online in the Near Future
Enthusiasm is now mounting in both the House and in the Senate to make cannabis available for research and to protect states that approve laws to legalize medical or recreational weed. Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, introduced a measure last month to smash existing barriers making it difficult to research medical cannabis.
In April, as well, Senators Kamala Harris, a Californian Democrat, and Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, urged the Justice Department to refrain from blocking marijuana research, claiming other federal entities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, are supportive of cannabis research too.
Meanwhile, Colorado Republican, Senator Cory Gardner, is drafting bipartisan legislation that would solidify the right of states to create their own laws for marijuana without fear of federal interference. Earlier, Gardner threatened to block President Donald Trump’s Justice Department nominees if Sessions did not retract his decision to undo Obama-era rules protecting marijuana laws in individual states.
Just last month, Trump assured Gardner that the federal government would leave states alone to make their own decisions. Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader and New York Democrat, is appealing for legislation that would decriminalize weed at the federal level and remove it from the list of controlled substances. Initially, Schumer planned to introduce the bill in April. Although late, he still plans to.
To Vice News, Schumer asked, “If smoking marijuana does not hurt anybody else, why should we not allow people to do it and not make it criminal?” The Senate is not all on board, though. Texas Republican Ted Cruz reiterated to reporters that he opposed legalization in general and would vote against it. “I think drug legalization ends up harming people, particularly young people. It traps them in addiction.”