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Never mind that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is the lead sponsor. Never mind that 68% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, a figure that includes 83% of Democrats and half of Republicans. And never mind that there’s a midterm election coming up in which passage would be an undeniable boost to Democrats’ electoral fortunes.
Despite all that, it seems a foregone conclusion in Congress that a long-awaited, just-released bill to stop the feds from treating cannabis as an illegal narcotic and start treating it as a substance to be regulated and taxed has little chance of passage anytime soon. Instead, the best we can purportedly hope for is that discrete pieces of the very good legislation will get over the hump.
Democrats resisting the sweeping reforms, President Biden included, need to get out of their own way, and Republicans need to get on board. The Drug Enforcement Administration now lists pot as a Schedule I drug, having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” That’s gobbledygook at a time when 37 states, from the Dakotas to Mississippi and Utah to Pennsylvania, have made it legal for medical purposes, and 19 have made it legal for adults for non-medical use.
Schumer’s legislation, coauthored with Sens. Cory Booker and Ron Wyden, would decriminalize cannabis and remove it from the DEA’s naughty list. It would expunge federal cannabis records and set up grant programs for small-business owners from communities disproportionately hurt by past drug laws.
Simultaneously, it would tend to concerns of those worried about cannabis abuse by bolstering enforcement against illegal cultivation, preventing the marketing of the substance to minors, and requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to research and develop a nationwide standard for marijuana-impaired driving. That last measure could prove of value in New York, which remains a step behind on this front.
A government genuinely responsive to its people would’ve legalized and regulated pot long ago. Instead, we’re asked to settle for scraps while out-of-touch politicians slowly snap out of their funk.