The numbers for drug reform in Congress don’t add up

As this session of Congress draws to a close, many have been disappointed by the lack of action on important legislation. One of them is cannabis. Going forward, pro-cannabis lawmakers will ultimately have choices to make. If comprehensive cannabis legislation is dead in this Congress – and it is – is an alternative acceptable? Is the status quo of the ban better than the hope of expanded legislation at a later date?

As Democrats took control of the House, Senate and White House in 2021, hopes were high. Many proponents of legalization believed the time had come to take this issue to the finish line. However, a year after the start of the new Congress, the reality should finally set in: the calculations still do not favor Congress to pass full cannabis legalization and an alternative is likely needed.

The reality that prevents Congress from passing federal cannabis legalization is a simple reality that often undermines complex and multi-faceted policy changes that have deep divisions within the legislative branch: There is no coalition. sufficient number of members of the House and a filibuster-proof majority. of senators who agree on a global legalization. This result is often frustrating or confusing for reform advocates for two reasons. First, they look at national polls and see not only a majority, but a supermajority of Americans who support large-scale cannabis reform. Second, there are majorities of members of the House and Senate who would say yes to the basic question: “Should cannabis be legalized nationally?” “

The latter, however, is the wrong question to ask. Often in a legislative body the question is not whether a law should be reformed, but how that law should be reformed. And this is where the shoe pinches for federal legalization legislation. Liberals and progressives in the Democratic Party cannot agree with moderate and libertarian Republicans on what cannabis reform should look like, even though majorities agree the law should be changed. And as pro-cannabis reform members on both sides dig their heels over the importance of the provisions close to their hearts (and the hearts of their grassroots), it makes it impossible to build this coalition.

Here are the fault lines

Liberal Democrats and especially the more progressive members of the party are unwilling to support legislation that does not include important social equity and racial justice provisions. Their argument is simple and compelling: The war on drugs was waged on the backs of black Americans, Latinos, and indigenous people, and reform should not proceed without a significant effort to right the wrongs of the past.

Moderate Republicans and libertarian party members see the issue from a market perspective. They believe the government should step back and let cannabis be treated as an agricultural commodity in which the business community and the free market – rather than government ban – should prevail. (It should be noted that most pro-cannabis Democrats and Republicans agree on some restorative justice such as pardons and striking off records for non-violent cannabis offenders.)

However, as legislation is drafted, any bill that does not include detailed provisions to advance social equity and racial justice is a failure for some key Democrats as well as within communities. hardest hit by the war on drugs. This situation has played out more recently in efforts to include the SAFE Banking Act in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This effort to include an amendment to expand access to financial institutions for the cannabis industry ultimately failed in the Senate, as Senators like Cory Booker (DN.J.) and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (DN. Y.) preferred their own comprehensive legislation. SAFE Banking’s withdrawal from NDAA came even as some members of the cannabis advocacy community argued that SAFE Banking would help minority business owners in the industry.

When the SAFE Banking Act was passed by the House as a stand-alone bill in 2021, it garnered the votes of 106 Republicans, demonstrating that the GOP can vote on cannabis legislation that makes it easier for markets to work and enterprises. However, months later, Senator Booker announced his categorical opposition to SAFE Banking whether the MORE law complements or his (and that of Leader Schumer and Senator Ron Wyden [D-Ore.]) The Cannabis Administration and Opportunities Act has not been adopted.

This is where the division over cannabis reform is most evident. While SAFE Banking garnered more than half the votes of the House GOP Conference, the MORE law (which was passed by the House in December 2020) received just five Republican votes. Since the legislation was reintroduced in the 117e Congress has, to date, received only one Republican co-sponsor.

It is clear that as a legalization bill moves away from a pro-business orientation, the number of Republican supporters drops. And while in a Democratic-controlled House, leaders can rally votes to pass something like the MORE law, the requirement to beat a filibuster in the Senate makes it impossible to pass comprehensive, fairness-focused legislation. social and racial justice. It’s not clear whether Democrats can even keep their 50-member Democrats in line for such a vote, and it’s certain they can’t attract the 10 or more Republicans needed to cross the 60-vote hurdle. And more moderate legislation that could attract more Republicans will likely lose the more progressive members of the Democratic Senate caucus.

Some progressives surely fear (perhaps rightly so) that moderate legislation with the vague promise to do better for communities of color at a later date is likely to be an empty promise – those communities have lost this poker hand on other questions in the past. At the same time, the status quo means there will be more cannabis-related arrests each year that will disproportionately impact communities of color. Would something that offers a little to both sides be possible? Perhaps combining federal decriminalization, seed funding for clearing state-level records, a presidential pledge to pardon ex-offenders upon signing of the bill, and SAFE Banking could be seen as a step forward. not in the right direction? Would piecemeal legislation under a Democratic Congress be better than rolling the dice in a (likely) Republican Congress in 2023, knowing the hostility of Republican leaders to legalization? The latter is the central question that advocates of legalization must ask and answer.

Ultimately, cannabis reform supporters inside and outside Congress need a reality check of the status of current cannabis reform proposals and the additional complications. that the future may offer. Whichever path you choose, there will be opponents, resistance fighters, resistance and anger. There will be accusations of bloated government or of not doing enough to reverse the effects of the war on drugs. This is the norm for a focus group environment on a heated issue in a legislative body. However, at the end of the day, Congress has a choice between doing nothing and letting the ban win and letting all the consequences of it linger. Or do something that isn’t perfect, that tackles some of the real damage drug prohibition has done in this country.

Source link

About Michael S. Montanez

Check Also

One year after January 6, members of Congress from Mass. declare that democracy is still under attack

It’s been a year since Massachusetts residents and others across the country saw large numbers …