Lannys newsletter is pretty interesting talking about possibilities of change at the Federal level:
Is Marijuana Prohibition Coming to an End?
Although President Trump attempted to put a positive spin on the outcome of the November 6 election, there was no getting around the fact that the equation in Washington DC has undergone a major change. Although the Senate remains in control by the Republicans, the Democrats picked up an impressive 39 seats in the House of Representatives.
Being in control of the House gives the Democrats tremendous clout as under the Constitution, they now have the exclusive authority to initiate tax and spending legislation. Other powers the Democrats didn’t have but now do is the ability to summon cabinet officers and other officials to appear before various House committees to explain and defend Executive policy, rule making, conduct and more.
Oh, oh - they also now have the power to initiate impeachment proceedings.
Most importantly as far as cannabis consumers are concerned is that they now have the power to not only introduce legislation but to get it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote. Except for continuing to remain a part of the bi-partisan coalition behind the Rohrabacher/Farr amendment (now the Rohrabacher/Blumenauer amendment after Rep. Sam Farr retired) which began back in the days of President Obama and prevents the Department of Justice from spending any money to enforce federal marijuana law in states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana and enacted a state regulatory program, the Republicans have done essentially nothing during the two years in which they had total and complete control over both the Legislative and Executive branches of government.
With the Republicans in control of the House, marijuana reform legislation never made it to the House floor as Republican representative Pete Sessions used his position as Chairman of the House Rules Committee to block House floor members from voting on over three-dozen cannabis related bills and amendments. Sessions blocked a number of popular, bipartisan-led reforms — such as facilitating medical cannabis access to military veterans and amending federal banking laws so that licensed marijuana businesses are treated like other legal industries.
If Session had allowed these bills to be sent to the floor for a vote, the vast majority of Democrats and about 1/3 of the Republicans would have supported them giving them enough votes to be passed. But he didn’t so they couldn't.
Rep. Sessions was caught by the blue-wave and failed in his re-election bid for Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, being defeated by Democratic challenger Colin Allred. As noted by former Republican Representative Bob Barr on FOX News, “the question of marijuana legalization appears to have been a factor in his race.” Sessions received an F grade in NORML’s latest Congressional Scorecard. By contrast, Allred received a B+ grade as a result of his stated support for cannabis decriminalization and medical marijuana access.
Chairperson of the House Rules Committee is one of the most powerful chairpersonships in Congress and it will not go to a freshman like Allred. That position is going to Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) which portends good times ahead.
With McGovern as chairperson, 2019 may very well be the year the cannabis paradigm undergoes a seismic shift as reform legislation is expected to move forward in the now Democratic-led House of Representatives.
The Boston Globe reported that McGovern has promised to permit federal lawmakers to debate and vote on marijuana-related amendments when he assumes control of the Committee in January. “Unlike my predecessor, I’m not going to block amendments for marijuana. Citizens are passing ballot initiatives, legislatures are passing laws, and we need to respect that. Federal laws and statutes are way behind.”
Rep. McGovern intends to prioritize legislative measures that limit federal interference in legal marijuana states, expand medical cannabis access for veterans and amend federal banking restrictions on the legal cannabis industry.
Can we trust Democrats to do what they say? With the Party’s platform and almost two-thirds of Democrats across the county in support of marijuana legalization, I expect we can.
That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down and take a Pollyanna attitude. We need to hold Dems’ feet to the fire and that means letting your Congressional Reps, whether they are Democrat or Republican, know of your support of marijuana reform legislation. That means taking some of your precious time to send letters and emails, phone their offices and absolutely best of all if you want to make your voice heard for sure, making in-person visits to their offices and speaking up at their town hall meetings.
Of course the fly in the ointment is that the Senate is still in control of the Republicans. It’s not that the reform legislation wouldn’t pass in the Senate – it would as there are enough Democrats and Republicans who support marijuana reform to get it passed, but Republican leadership may prevent it from going to the floor for a vote.
Foreshadowing Senate Republican leadership antipathy to marijuana reform legislation is the reaction of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill that has bipartisan support including the support of President Trump.
The House passed a version of the First Step Act in spring, but the House version was limited to reforms on the “back end,” such as slightly increasing good time credits for federal prisoners and providing higher levels of reentry and rehabilitation services.
Revised in the Senate, the First Step Act now lowers mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses, reduces life sentences for drug offenders with three convictions (“three strikes”) to 25 years, allows thousands of prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses to petition for a reduced sentence and provides enhanced services for reentry and rehabilitation programs.
Just because McConnell has come to his senses regarding industrial hemp doesn’t necessarily portend well for ending federal marijuana prohibition as McConnell’s support for hemp is due to the financial desperation Kentucky’s farmers are undergoing as the nation continues its revulsion to tobacco.
McConnell, claiming there isn’t enough time to bring the bill to the floor, said he will not allow the bill to be voted on this year. His claims of not enough time is bogus and showcases his antagonism to any criminal justice reform legislation even when supported by a bi-partisan coalition of Senators and the President. This is not a good omen for marijuana reform legislation that makes it out of the House and into the Senate.
Since marijuana legalization is now supported by a majority of Americans including Republicans, there is always the possibility that McConnell and other Senate Republicans might come to their senses especially when they recognize that stakes for Republicans in the Senate for being re-elected are very problematic. In 2020 there will be 20 Republicans up for re-election and only 12 Democrats almost the reverse of this year when 26 Democratic Senate seats were up for election and only 9 Republicans.
Could marijuana be a factor in which party takes control? If House Democrats fail to pass marijuana reform legislation or if Senate Republicans fail to pass the legislation sent from the House or if President Trump veto’s these bills, then it most surely will be a major issue for the House, the Senate and the Presidency in 2020.
Will 2019 be a banner year for marijuana law reform or will it fall victim to machinations of timid Democrats and reefer mad Republicans? Whatever happens will be fascinating to watch and even more exciting to get down in the trenches and be involved in.