2022. Mark the date, set an alarm. By then, in five years’ time, U.S. federal marijuana policies will at last reflect the will of the American people—more than 90 percent of whom want safe and reliable access to medical cannabis, and (these days) are almost as likely to smoke weed as they are tobacco.
U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon) is planning on it.
“In five years, everyone will have access to medical marijuana,” Blumenauer said during a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. “In five years, every state will be able to treat” cannabis like a commodity.
“Frankly, marijuana has gone mainstream,” he said. “This is gaining traction. It’s my personal assessment that it has come of age politically.”
Blumenauer represents most of Portland, Oregon in Congress, where he has become one of marijuana reform’s biggest supporters. But every session, there are more and more lawmakers like him.
Earlier this spring, three other representatives from states where marijuana is legal for adults 21 and over formed a bipartisan “Cannabis Caucus.” Caucus members are currently pushing the most ambitious package of marijuana reform bills ever seen on Capitol Hill—covering banking, taxation, research, veteran’s access and outright legalization in a manner similar to alcohol.
Aiding them in this effort are conservative Republicans—the kind who end rallies with “Make America Great Again” chants—because their constituents have also made it clear that “there’s a consensus that this ought to be something the federal government ought not to try and suppress,” Blumenauer said.
Adult-use legalization and medical-marijuana ballot initiatives won in eight of nine states on Election Day. Weed, Blumenauer noted, earned more voters than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. But despite this consensus, there’s no guarantee anything will happen in Speaker Paul Ryan’s Congress.
There’s no solid indication that any one of the 13 cannabis-related bills currently in the House and Senate will be called for a committee hearing, let alone pass a majority vote and be signed into law by President Donald Trump—whose administration continues to send mixed, but mostly hostile, signals on the issue.
On Sunday, Homeland Security chief John Kelly went on television to declare that marijuana was “not a factor” in the drug war—and then appeared to reverse himself on Tuesday, telling a law-enforcement gathering that cannabis is a deportable offense.
That same day, Attorney General Jeff Sessions—marijuana legalization’s enemy number one—completely contradicted Kelly with a declaration that cannabis distribution in America is still controlled by international drug cartels.
Blumenauer declined to directly criticize either Sessions or Trump or the administration’s erratic nature. (Partly because, by introducing a bill on Tuesday that would streamline the removal of the president from office, he said plenty.)
Instead, he suggested that they could be partners—which would greatly help Blumenauer’s effort to renew what is currently the single most important piece of federal marijuana policy.
In 2014, Congress passed a budget amendment barring the federal government from interfering in state-legal medical marijuana operations. As long as the amendment is in effect, neither the Justice Department nor the DEA can do anything about law-abiding medial cannabis—a notion federal courts have upheld.
But the amendment expires on April 29—Donald Trump’s 100th day in office—and needs to be renewed.
Last week, 44 members of Congress signed a letter, co-authored by Blumenauer and U.S. Rep Dana Rohrabacher, asking that the amendment—now named the “Rohrabacher-Blumenaeur amendment”—be included in any spending bills, the tone and agenda for which are generally set by the president.
“I’m quite confident that we will ultimately be successful working with this administration, despite some confusing signals which have characterized everything from foreign policy to healthcare,” Blumenauer said. “This is where the American public wants to go. To do otherwise would be to precipitate yet another clash for an administration bogged down in everything.”
“I don’t think they want to pick a fight to be on the wrong side of the American public,” he added.
Marijuana reform efforts will likely continue throughout the rest of Trump’s current term in office.
“It’s going to take another two to four years to work this through,” Blumenauer said. In the meantime, marijuana advocates and entrepreneurs should be cautiously optimistic—and on their best behavior.
“This is a pivotal time and nobody should take anything for granted,” he said. “These are strange times in this nation’s capital and sometimes things happen that are unexpected. But the long term is clear.”
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