Top Senate Democrats have begun drafting a plan to end the federal ban on cannabis and provide government assistance to communities impacted by the subsequent war on drugs. Despite support from both parties for the decriminalization of marijuana usage at the state and federal levels, the complete legalization remains controversial in American politics. Any bill meant to legalize marijuana would require 60 votes should Senate Republicans filibuster the bill, forcing Democrats to receive support from at least ten Republican colleagues in order to succeed. Within their own caucus, even conservative Democrats themselves remain skeptical of wide-scale legalization.
Despite the hurdles imminent, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has thrown his full support behind the initiative, claiming it will be a significant priority for the Senate. Potential assistance from the other side of the aisle may come from Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who in the past has supported efforts to decriminalize marijuana use and possession. Critics have already begun calling the measure a longshot, claiming that opposition from Republicans, conservative Democrats, and even the president himself will kill efforts to pass the bill.
The debate around the potential legalization of medical and recreational cannabis at the federal level has grown more prominent in the last decade. Federally, marijuana remains a Schedule I drug that allegedly has “no currently accepted medical use,” though various efforts have been made to overturn its status for decades. Despite its federal classification, 37 states have officially legalized consumption for either medical or recreational purposes.
Currently, surveys show that 91% of Americans favor the legalization of either medical or recreational marijuana, an overwhelming majority compared to the controversial label it has within Congress. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sudden expansion in the industry, which was forced to meet the demands of consumers often fueled by pandemic woes. Any efforts to expunge past drug charges would likely dissuade many Republicans from supporting this Democrat bill. A lack of restorative justice language would also frustrate the more progressive members of both the House and Senate. Media leaks seem to suggest that Democrats are willing to concede on the issue since legalizing a drug for medical usage is on a whole different level than legalizing it for recreational purposes as well.
Media leaks seem to suggest the Democrats are willing to concede some on the issue, and federal decriminalization of cannabis may eventually become the focal point of the bill should bipartisan negotiations fall through. President Biden has vocally supported decriminalizing but not legalizing marijuana, and most Republicans would likely be more receptive to this limited approach.
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