This piece first appeared in Cannabis Now.
While there is plenty of evidence out there to suggest that Congress is nowhere near ready to consider even the most conservative proposal for reforming the marijuana laws in the United States, there was some noise in the District of Columbia last week that suggests the end of prohibition is coming within the next five years.
At the recent International Drug Reform Conference — a preaching to the choir sort of gathering in Arlington, Virginia — Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, predicted that pot prohibition would be eliminated by way of congressional action by 2020. The leader of the national advocacy group suggested that with a number of ballot measures likely to get a voice in the November 2016 election, there will soon be no way for Congress to avoid, at a minimum, opening up a serious debate for legalization.
“If you look at what’s about to happen,” Kampia said, “Vermont is most likely to legalize through the legislature, and Rhode Island has a good shot, but those are the only two states in play.
“It could be that four or five initiative states legalize it, and then all of this is facing Congress in 2017,” Kampia added. “Then there will be a vigorous debate on legalization, and then, I predict, Congress could pass the states’ rights bill in 2019.”
If that happens, it would almost have to get underway through a proposal similar to one introduced earlier this year by Representative Dana Rohrabacher entitled the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015.” Under this simple bill, which begs to allow states to legalize marijuana for medicinal and recreational purposes without federal interference, the Controlled Substances Act would be amended in a way that would prevent the DEA from shaking down businesses and individuals as long as the “production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana” falls directly in line with state law. Unlike with amendments attached to federal spending bills, which have done little over the past year to stop the federal government from nailing the medical marijuana community to the wall, this piece of legislation would put a much needed leash on the government’s over zealous drug warriors.
Although there have been some concerns that the government’s most probable move is to legalize the leaf strictly for medicinal purposes by passing a bill similar to the highly publicized CARERS Act, which would allow the herb to remain criminalized for those without a prescription, Kampia suggested that Congress may be more likely to go the route of full legalization so that the nation can capitalize on the product as it does with alcohol.
“All the attention will be on legalization,” Kampia said, “and there’s not a lot of tax revenue for the federal government with just medical marijuana, but if you’re talking about the whole ball of wax, with substantial tax revenues, Congress might be inclined to go for the whole enchilada.”
But, the question remains, will the outcome of the next presidential election have any influence on the progress the U.S. makes in regards to nationwide pot reform?
Certainly, an argument could be made that if a Democrat wins the keys to the White House in 2016, the issue of legalization may stand more of a fighting chance than if a Republican takes office.
Yet, as Jacob Sullum, senior editor for Reason Magazine, recently pointed out in a video segment entitled “Recreational Pot Will Be Legal Just About Everywhere Soon,” the outcome of nationwide legalization is probably not contingent on whether a Democrat reigns victorious over a Republican.
Sullum suggests that the focus on state’s rights in regards to marijuana laws has already set legalization in motion.
“When they repealed alcohol prohibition, it was left up to the states what to do with alcohol,” Sullum said. “And so you have most of the Republican presidential candidates saying the federal government should not interfere if the states want to legalize. That’s really an amazing development.”
Sullum, like many other drug policy experts, believes the best bet for forging a path to nationwide reform lies in the ability of California to successfully pass an initiative in 2016 — a major event that he expects will come to pass.
“It’s kind of surprising that California has not legalized marijuana by now,” Sullum said.
So, while the thought of marijuana being legalized at the federal level within five years may sound a bit absurd, there certainly seems to be some faith among longtime drug reformers that this historical event is coming sooner rather than later. Of course, the bulk of this anticipation is based on the success of states like California, Arizona, and Maine in 2016. Any failure certainly has the potential to set the movement back even further.
What do you think? Will cannabis prohibition end in the next five years? Tell us in the comments below.