So far in Washington, 2019 has been dominated by talk of the shutdown, immigration policy and “The Wall.” That’s likely to continue another few weeks — at least — until Fiscal Year 2019 funding is settled and enacted for the entire federal government. Eventually, we will, I hope and strongly suspect, move on to other issues. The President will lay out his policy agenda in the State of the Union address now scheduled for February 5th, and the Democrats will lay out theirs in the response to the State of the Union, and perhaps in other venues too.
As we think through what these policy agendas might look like, many familiar issues will surely come to mind: health care, trade, foreign policy and much more. But there are often sleeper issues that we don’t anticipate but that somehow manage to get pushed onto the national agenda. As this article from Politico sets out, marijuana policy could be one such issue in 2019. Here is an excerpt from the article:
“This is the first Congress in history where, going into it, it seems that broad marijuana reforms are actually achievable,” said Tom Angell, an advocate-journalist who runs Marijuana Moment.
Members of Congress are lining up to introduce bills that never got to see the light of day when Republicans ran the show. Two bills have already been filed: a reintroduction of the CARERS Act by Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Don Young (R-Alaska), which would expand marijuana research, allow VA doctors to discuss pot with veteran patients and prevent the federal government from meddling with state-legal programs without removing marijuana from the schedules created by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970; and H.R. 420, the “Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Act” by [Rep. Earl] Blumenauer, [the Oregon Democrat who is the dean of the Cannabis Caucus], which would remove marijuana from the list of most dangerous drugs, “de-scheduling it” in Congress-speak, and shift regulatory authority to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms.
“For the past several Congresses, there have been dozens of pieces of marijuana legislation filed, but this is the first time where advocates can legitimately say that some of these bills can actually pass,” Angell told me.
And, sure, Republicans remain in control of the Senate, so it seems unlikely that such bills would have much luck there. But the current Senate is practically the same body that just a month ago passed a criminal justice reform bill 87 to 12, and under the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to legalize hemp — the non-psychoactive sister plant of marijuana — through the Farm Bill.
This level of disconnection between state and federal law cannot hold for much longer, and it might not have to. In the wake of the Farm Bill, the idea that Congress could remove marijuana from the list of scheduled drugs is now conceivable. After all,the plant is now legal; only the potency is in question. Maybe this year, for the first time, Blumenauer’s bill doesn’t seem so crazy.
Do you think marijuana legislation has a chance to move this Congress? Are there other sleeper issues that you think might come up and move towards enactment?