Legalize It

[ Posted Thursday, July 15th, 2021 – 16:17 UTC ]

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced this week he will be moving legislation to the floor of the Senate to legalize marijuana at the federal level. This is an important milestone (even if the measure fails), since such legislation has never had leadership support in the Senate before. The House has passed similar bills already, knowing full well they were all going to die in the Senate. But with Schumer on board, the chances that the federal War On Weed could end have improved considerably.

Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden deserve much of the credit for this announcement, as they have been championing legalization for a while now. The three are listed as "Sponsoring Offices" in the document [PDF] Schumer just released.

Here is a quick rundown of what this bill will accomplish:

Key policy details: The discussion draft of the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act includes provisions that cater to both "states rights" Republicans and progressive Democrats. While the proposal seeks to remove all federal penalties on weed, it would allow states to prohibit even the possession of cannabis -- along with production and distribution -- a nod to states' rights. It would also establish funding for a wide range of federal research into everything from drugged driving to the impact cannabis has on the human brain. The measure aims to collect data about traffic deaths, violent crime and other public health concerns often voiced by Republican lawmakers.

On the flip side, the proposal also includes provisions that are crucial to progressives. That includes three grant programs designed to help socially or economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as those hurt by the war on drugs and expungements of federal non-violent cannabis offenses. States and cities also have to create an automatic expungement program for prior cannabis offenses to be eligible for any grant funding created by the bill.

Some of the language from the document makes things a little clearer, for those who care about the details. The second sentence of the overview pages ends with: "removing cannabis from the federal list of controlled substances and empowering states to implement their own cannabis laws."

This is key. It means not just "rescheduling" but "descheduling," which is an important point. Later in the document, the language gets even clearer:

Regulatory responsibility will be moved from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (ATF), as well as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to protect public health.

In other words, marijuana will be moved from the controlled substance list and treated almost the same as alcohol and tobacco (more on that in a moment). This is the right way to do it, rather than moving it down to some less-restricted schedule designation. The proposal has other provisions that are just as strong:

State-compliant cannabis businesses will finally be treated like other businesses and allowed access to essential financial services, like bank accounts and loans. Medical research will no longer be stifled.

. . .

The bill automatically expunges federal non-violent marijuana crimes and allows an individual currently serving time in federal prison for non-violent marijuana crimes to petition a court for resentencing.

Currently, marijuana businesses must operate on a cash basis. And that's not just accountant-speak, it means they must transact all their business in cash -- no credit cards or other bank involvement can happen. This is dangerous, and makes such businesses targets for criminals. State-legal marijuana businesses are also treated extremely harshly under existing tax laws, since they are not allowed to write off as business tax deductions such common things as salaries or rent (as every other business is allowed to). All of these restrictions will be lifted, which is good since the current rules are so outdated.

However, this proposal falls down in one significant way. Here is how cannabis will be different than alcohol or tobacco, under federal law (emphasis added):

Sec. 111 of the Discussion Draft would recognize state law as controlling the possession, production, or distribution of cannabis. Notwithstanding federal decriminalization, shipment of cannabis into a state in violation of state law is prohibited. In addition, the provision retains criminal penalties in the case of illegal cannabis diversion. Cannabis diversion is defined as (1) the unlawful possession, production, distribution, or purchase of 10 pounds or more of cannabis in violation of federal or state law, or (2) the unauthorized possession of 10 pounds or more of cannabis in any state or local jurisdiction for which tax has not been paid in accordance with local law. The provision clarifies that a state may not prohibit the interstate commerce of cannabis transported through its borders for lawful delivery into another state.

The first and last sentences are the key ones, because while this would end nine-tenths of the War On Weed, it would leave one stone unturned.

Currently, I can get in a car in California and go buy a bottle of booze. I can then put this bottle -- unopened -- in the back seat of my car and drive to any other state. I can drive up to Idaho, to New York, to Mississippi, to Texas, and then back to California. I would be safe knowing that even if I was pulled over by a police officer for some reason, he couldn't fine me or arrest me just for having a bottle of unopened liquor in the car. Individual states and counties are allowed to ban the sale of alcohol, but not the simple possession of it. "Dry" counties and states still do exist, in various forms. But I can still legally drive through all of them with my bottle of hooch in the backseat.

This wouldn't be true for marijuana, though. States (and assumably counties and cities) would be able to ban not only cannabis sales, but also possession and use. So if I took the same road trip with a bag of weed in the car, I could indeed be arrested wherever sales weren't legal yet. This is unacceptable, but perhaps understandable as an interim step. As long as it is revisited later (when more states have legalized recreational use, one assumes), then it could serve as a stepping stone to full marijuana freedom.

Interestingly enough, if a business legally put a bunch of weed on a truck and drove it from one legal state to another, no state could arrest the truck driver or impound the truck. So marijuana businesses would be immune from other states' laws, but not marijuana customers.

But this one shortcoming isn't enough for me not to support the effort. Pretty much everything else in the bill would be giant steps in the right direction. These steps are all not just necessary, they are in fact long overdue.

The federal War On Weed is a legal hangover steeped in racism. Marijuana was made illegal to target Mexicans and jazz musicians (this is historical fact). The beefed-up "War On Drugs" was dreamed up in the administration of Richard Nixon, to target two groups who strenuously opposed him: Black people and the anti-war left. It was later championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan, who told everyone to "Just Say No." And since Nixon, Republicans have long used the issue as a political bludgeon against Democrats. This terrified the Democrats so much in the 1980s and 1990s that many of them still shy away from supporting legalization today. President Joe Biden certainly remembers the '80s, and his attitudes still haven't fully evolved from those days. So it's not even assured that every Senate Democrat will vote for the measure.

This is not just cowardly, it is also politically stupid. When asked whether they favor legalization, and astounding 91 percent of the public supports legalizing marijuana -- either full legalization for recreation (60 percent) or just for medical use (31 percent). That means a whole lot of Republican voters agree. If Democrats would only realize that this is an issue which resonates with precisely the demographics they have been targeting, they could reap a political reward.

Some do realize it. Two candidates who ran for Congress in Texas recently wrote an interesting take on this, calling on Democrats to adopt a "workers, wages, and weed" platform. They write of their experience with the national party apparatus:

Yet the Democratic Party failed to ensure that voters in these states and elsewhere knew which party was fighting for these issues. And we missed a critical opportunity to carve out support from independents and moderate Republicans who agree with us.

As candidates in competitive 2020 congressional races in Texas -- races we lost -- we're intimately familiar with this disconnect. Both of us had coveted spots on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's "Red to Blue" list of candidates deemed strong bets to flip congressional seats. In our campaigns, we heard from voters every day who were eager to replace Trump but weren't necessarily motivated to pull the lever for Democrats. But rather than ask what voters in our districts were most concerned with, party organizations such as the DCCC pushed us to dull our message and limit voter contact in favor of rudderless advertising.

Meaningful conversations with voters about issues we supported -- such as increasing the minimum wage or legalizing marijuana -- were shelved in favor of TV ads with broad messages about health care. Instead of taking our strongest closing arguments to voters' doors, we took watered-down messages to the airwaves that failed to inspire or even distract from the daily stream of Trump news. One of us ended up losing by about 13 percentage points, the other by seven percentage points.

So it is encouraging to see Chuck Schumer leading a new legalization effort in the Senate. Some states which have legalized marijuana have Republican senators, too, so sooner or later legislation like this will pass. Once the politicians (in both parties) figure out that it is not only politically safe for them to support legalization but in fact politically unsafe for them not to, then one of these measures will gain enough support to pass. The days when marijuana legalization were seen as (pun intended) a pipe dream or just a joke are long over.

The people are leading. The politicians haven't quite caught up yet. But at this point, it is inevitable. So no matter how the upcoming Senate vote turns out, just the fact that a vote will be held at all is progress towards this goal. It may not happen this year, but it will happen. The War On Weed was wrong, it was counterproductive, and it ruined a lot of lives. It is time to put the whole sorry relic into the ashcan of history.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


25 Comments on “Legalize It”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Biden is way behind on legalization and I'll be surprised if he evolves much further on this issue. I don't understand it.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    And, by 'it' I mean Biden's outdated thinking on drugs, all of them!

  3. [3] 
    John From Censornati wrote:


    I don't understand it.

    It's called reefer madness.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


  5. [5] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    Glory be, People,
    We might at last have us a small donor candidate/officeholder to watch. This individual does not take donations from political party committees, other political committees (such as PACS), lobbyists, or his own pocket; has no outstanding loans; and does not take (or maybe doesn’t get) transfers from other committees. There does seem to be a tiny amount of money coming in from other officeholders, however.
    When I read this little tidbit about his 2nd quarter FEC filing, I ran right over there to have a look for myself. Alas, his most recent filing has just been made and is not yet online, so I had to make do with the 1st quarter report. It is impressive, I must say.
    Our guy doesn’t pass the purity test entirely, but he’s looking pretty darn good. Out of $1,822,734.05 raised in the 1st quarter, a mere 23% came from donations greater than $200. Woohoo! Other sources of income came to $8,805.71; a pittance. Sorry to note that $41,613.38 had to be refunded to donors. That's gotta hurt.
    Maybe it is time for us to get behind this principled champion of the people and … something, something, something.

    Who's our man? Wait for it...
    Florida Man Oh, MG

  6. [6] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


  7. [7] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    Rats. The preview window lied about the spacing. My apologies.

  8. [8] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    It always does. :)

  9. [9] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Beggars can't be choosers...

  10. [10] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    if marijuana is legalized, it would be an excellent ingredient in pie.

  11. [11] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    Using up all your munchies before you even get them is an amateur maneuver...

  12. [12] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    that's why it's important to have extra pie on hand.

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    Two funerals and no one noticed how you are brain dead?

    I'm guessing you thought this bullshit of yours that I quoted from a prior commentary would be some kind of snappy intelligent retort; however, my critical thinking skills would like to hear your explanation to everyone else here in Weigantia how it is that you believe you know what occurred at two funerals you didn't attend.

    If you're genuinely concerned about a brain that's demonstrably defective, it would behoove you and most definitely be in your best interests to focus what little intellect you possess and concentrate on improving your own giant honking mental deficiencies. Connecting the dots has never been your strong suit. *laughs*

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Gee whiz. I guess once one's already brought out the c-word, rules are irrelevant. And by c- word I mean 'cookie' of course, which may be good enough for you, but is still not pie.

  15. [15] 
    MyVoice wrote:

    Yes, Fans,
    For those of you not caring to do the math at home, we might infer that the refunding of $41,613.38 to donors means that some donors have exceeded the $2,900 (new for 2021) individual limit. So, if we go overboard and assume that all donors in the first quarter maxed out, this means that our paragon of virtue became beholden to approximately 628 new masters in the first quarter alone.
    Seems like a lot, but what do I know? This is what big money politics looks like. Given the obvious venality of anyone who would accept legal donations, I guess we’ll have to watch and see what $2,900 buys one. Hard to believe he owes anything to anyone who doesn’t max out.
    In addition, since the above-mentioned donors cannot legally donate more to this guy this year, our hero/venal fundraising machine must find a completely new batch of donors in order to keep raking in money. Given that he’s said to have raised about 1.3M from individual donors in the second quarter, this means he’s acquired another 448 maxed out masters, giving him 1,073 masters in the first half alone.
    Carrying water for this number of masters clearly marks our guy as just another politician, right? Yeah, let’s not count him as a small donor candidate. If he’d done this the right way, he’d have in the neighborhood of 15,000 masters and that’s clearly too many to juggle. He’d have to focus on working for his district.

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:


    Nice column, CW. I would be straight-out lying if I said that this column wasn't totally expected and delivered as if on cue. My response should be no less expected... and there you have it:


    I can also report from firsthand experience that it's fabulous in pie. :)

  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:


    This is pure joy; I could not love it more than I do right now, but I expect to anyway because I won't be able to help myself as time passes by.

    … something, something, something.


    Who's our man? Wait for it...
    Florida Man Oh, MG

    I see what you did there.

    We must keep an eye on this Master Gaetz.


  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:

    Don Harris

    You are either not understanding the difference or purposely not understanding the difference.

    You are unsuitable for CW's comments section if suffer from the ridiculous delusion that any other commenter here has any trouble whatsoever understanding your simple repetitive bullshit. Also (not surprisingly), you missed the point entirely.

    It's not the size of the contributions that matter, it's the total contributions from any one donor that matters.

    You seem to need serious help with your own simple bullshit. Allow me. If one citizen contributed two $1,000 donations, it would definitely be "the size of the contributions that matter." We all get it. You? Not so much, and it's not exactly rocket science and simple damn math not the least bit confusing to anyone here with the possible exception of you.

    A donor could give 100 dollars a week or a month and give a total of well over 200 dollars even though each contribution was only 100 dollars.

    Not to the same candidate (according to your bullshit) idiot. Do you not understand your own simple purity test?

    It's not purity test, it's an adequacy test.

    Ta-may-toe... ta-ma-toe... bullshit semantics. If one must take a pledge not to vote for a candidate that doesn't meet your stupid standard, then it's a purity test. I don't vote for child traffickers; yes, it is damn purity test of mine.

    You will have to do better than your misinterpretation and mis-characterization on small contribution candidates as small donor candidates to make a rational argument against small donor candidates.

    She sure blew your shit out of the water... even if the point was too hard for you to grasp.

    Your shit is certified Orwellian and always has been. To characterize casting a write-in vote for an unregistered and unqualified candidate as "voting" is just outright propagandizing bullshit. Not voting isn't the equivalent of voting. It's disenfranchisement of citizens... some that might not realize they're casting a vote that by law won't be counted. That's why your shit will never be anything but a giant stinking pile of disenfranchising bullshit.

    Big money corrupting our political process is wrong, is counterproductive and not only ruined but ended a lot more lives than marijuana prohibition.

    Your characterization that money always equals evil is childish and asinine, and your disenfranchising shit where you encourage people to de facto burn their vote or not vote for a legal or viable candidate is illegal in multiple states.

    At least 80% of citizens want the big money out of politics, including a majority of Republicans.

    You keep repeating this as if it's the equivalent of 80% of citizens agreeing with your purity test ignorance. It isn't.

    It is time to put this whole sorry relic into the ashcan of history.

    I agree that you and your bullshit mountain belongs in a burning trashcan.

    People can use One Demand to lead on this issue as the politicians have no intention of catching up on this as long as citizens keep voting for them when they don't.

    People can tell you to eff off also. So eff off.

  19. [19] 
    Kick wrote:


    if marijuana is legalized, it would be an excellent ingredient in pie.

    It is an excellent ingredient in pie even when it isn't legal too! ;)

  20. [20] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Has the wheel finally turned full circle? Will the Democrats run and win in 2022 on

    "Workers, Wages, and Weed"

    and so finally redeem themselves from the their repeated losses after the Civil War, running on a similarly alliterative platform of

    "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion"?

  21. [21] 
    Kick wrote:

    John M

    "Workers, Wages, and Weed"


    and so finally redeem themselves from the their repeated losses after the Civil War, running on a similarly alliterative platform of

    "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion"?

    If I recall correctly, wasn't that the charge levelled against them by the Republicans, and didn't the Democrats actually win that particular election, John M?

    Grover Cleveland: The only president to serve two nonconsecutive terms (let's keep it that way) and the reason Joe Biden is the 46th president of the United States but the 45th person to hold the office. :)

  22. [22] 
    Kick wrote:

    John M from Ct, I mean

    Too many Johns. ;)

  23. [23] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    And by c- word I mean 'cookie' of course...

    What? How does 'c- word' not mean cake -- pie's closest and most bitter rival?

  24. [24] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Yes, you're right on the details. I was having fun with the idea of a new triply alliterative political slogan that echoed the infamous one from the late 1800s.

    The three R's slogan was, as you say, a GOP attempt at slander, to remind their own voters of the Democrats' dreadfully sinful politics. And it didn't work, at least not in that particular election year.

    But I was thinking how, without actually claiming to be for Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion, the Democratic Party was effectively crippled in the post-Civil War era by its refusal to agree that Prohibition was a moral necessity; its embrace of Catholic Irish immigrants as an urban voter base in the North; and its indelible association with the defeated and traitorous Confederacy.

    Wouldn't it be ironic if the Dems today could actually mobilize some popular enthusiasm for their inherently positive but so far not particularly poll-beating positions, with something as simple, humorous, and slightly self-mocking (puff, puff) as 'Workers, Wages, and Weed'?

  25. [25] 
    Kick wrote:

    John M from Ct.

    I like it, John M; it has a very nice "ring" to it.

    The "weed" issue alone would definitely move multiple groups of otherwise apathetic voters to the polls.

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