There's little doubt at this point that the federal government will legalize cannabis at some point in the next few years. According to Pew Research, 67% of Americans believe that cannabis should be federally legal, but as we know, it is not enough for the vast majority of Americans to support legislation - what matters is how our elected politicians will vote.
Our representatives in Congress take their cues from their constituents and with a Republican-controlled Senate, is there any chance of legislation passing both chambers of congress? Yes! In fact, according to the same Pew Research poll, 55% of Republicans and conservative-leaning voters now support federal legalization. Although it's a slim majority, it bodes well for the legalization movement, especially when compared with historical numbers.
Clearly, Americans have had a dramatic change of heart over the last 50 years with regards to cannabis.
To pass legislation legalizing cannabis, the federal government would need to pass a bill in both chambers of congress and the President would need to sign the bill into law, so where does President Trump stand on the issue?
Unfortunately, the President has been unclear in explaining where he stands with respect to legalization. In October of 2015, one year before the election, President Trump stated, "In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state."
This stands in direct contrast to the President's stated views from the summer of 2015, in which he said of Colorado's recreational cannabis program, "I say it's bad. Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think it's bad, and I feel strongly about it."
Since the election, President Trump has continued to waver back-and-forth in his support for cannabis legalization. By nominating noted cannabis opponent, Jeff Sessions to serve as his first Attorney General, President Trump effectively hindered any chance that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would take action to end the war on drugs. Sessions rescinded the Cole Memorandum in January of 2018, which previously served as DOJ policy for Marijuana enforcement. The Cole Memorandum allowed licensed operators who were abiding by their state regulations to operate without fear of persecution by the DOJ.
The President has, however, stated that he would support the STATES act, which would push the issue of legalization to individual states to decide upon whether or not they should legalize cannabis.
Recently, the House Judiciary Committee passed the MORE act, which would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act - a crucial step in cannabis legalization. The bill will move to the broader House of Representatives, but faces obstacles in the Senate.
Although we will start the 2020s with cannabis no closer to federal legalization than it was 50 years ago, public sentiment has shifted dramatically, and there is reason for optimism. We'll be looking at the STATES Act, MORE Act, and SAFE Banking Act in a coming blog post, but for now, let's be thankful for legal recreational cannabis sales in 11 states and the District of Columbia!