• January 26, 2021

Democrats and Advocates Nervous Over Dem Leaders on Marijuana

 Democrats and Advocates Nervous Over Dem Leaders on Marijuana

Even some of marijuana’s biggest supporters in Washington are nervous ahead of this week’s historic vote to decriminalize cannabis nationwide. They know the support is there in the public, but they don’t know if the will power is there in Congress.    

“We know that it’s still kind of iffy,” Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) told The News Station. “This game is so uncertain that we’re still not sure where we’re headed.”

The confusion isn’t just because some Democratic leaders don’t care about the issue, which they don’t. Ask House Whip Jim Clyburn, who told me in 2018 that “It’s not important to me,” or Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who told me earlier this year he doesn’t talk marijuana policy with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The confusion runs deeper.

The nation’s lawmakers have been twisted into stale, inedible pretzels by the nation’s own rigid war on ‘drugs.’ That’s why Correa is actually lenient when it comes to his colleagues who still oppose cannabis. He’s heard from constituents who have told him they can’t consume cannabis because they don’t want all the stigma. One lady summed up that rational angst to Correa.

“‘My doctor told me that cannabis would help me,’ but she says, ‘I’m not a drug addict. I will never touch that marijuana stuff. Never,’” Correa recounts. “This is a woman that has essentially listened to official government messages for 70 years.”   

But government distortions, scare tactics, and the like have failed. Cannabis is now as legal as beer in 15 states and the nation’s capital, in spite of the federal government’s best attempts to make Americans hate something they are naturally fine with. That’s why this week’s House vote is potentially seismic (and no, politicians don’t move mountains: Their voters can, though).

“This upcoming vote is the culmination of decades of activism and advocacy by frustrated citizens about the needlessly oppressive policy of marijuana prohibition,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal told The News Station.

“All the science research has essentially been choreographed to support the political move, the political agenda, so to speak,” Correa says.

That’s why this week’s scheduled House floor vote is potentially earth moving: Drugs are terrible things, which is why most lawmakers still want to eradicate addiction. And you don’t eradicate addiction by criminalizing ‘drugs.’

“It should have been war on drugs that focused on medical treatment, as opposed to incarceration, as opposed to criminalization. And now what we’re doing with this vote is beginning a major step forward in saying, ‘legalize cannabis and begin to deal with the facts — and medical facts — and not politics,’” Correa says. “That’s a hard turn; a major reversal.”  

That’s also why advocates are eager to punt this ball directly into Mitch McConnell’s senatorial lap.

“We know that the Senate will refuse to take up the legislation this Congress, but that does not take away from the significance that the House of Representatives was willing to officially pass a bill that would end marijuana criminalization,” NORML’s Strekal says. “It is truly historic in nature and will give us much needed momentum moving into the new Congress under the new president next year, to be able to hopefully address this issue once and for all.”

Strekal isn’t naïve. He knows the incoming administration is no cake walk on these issues.

“President-elect Joe Biden is in the process of going through an evolution on the issue of marijuana policy reform,” Strekal says. “His selection of vice president-elect Kamala Harris as his running mate, who happens to be the lead Senate sponsor of the MORE Act, is a demonstration that he is not unwilling to sign this bill should it be sent to his desk.”

Still, proponents are eager to make history this week.

“We have finally seen science triumph over politics when it comes to cannabis policy,” Correa says. “It’s historical that we are moving something through Congress.”  

Matt Laslo

Based in Washington, Matt Laslo is a veteran political and music reporter. Since 2006, he’s been a contributor with VICE News, VICE News Tonight HBO, The Daily Beast, Rolling Stone, Playboy, Billboard, The Atlantic, NPR, etc. He’s taught journalism at Boston University (MA) and The University of Maryland (BA). And he teaches political communications at The Johns Hopkins University MA in Government and Public Policy program. He can be found on most all social media platforms as @MattLaslo.

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