Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

New House, Same Story



In one of its first acts, the newly seated House of Representatives introduced bipartisan legislation that would require the federal government to take a hands-off approach to cannabis and let states establish their own laws and programs.

"The national consensus on medical marijuana is solid and bipartisan, but our federal drug laws continue to treat patients and their doctors like criminals," one of the bill's authors, Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee) said in a statement supporting the bill, which boasted 42 co-sponsors.

Over in the Senate, a bipartisan coalition stands ready to introduce the bill, with senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) all having pledged support. And President Trump indicated last summer that he "probably will end up" supporting the bill.

So bully, right? Weed is all but legalized.

Not so fast. Those pushing to see the end of the folly that is federal prohibition still have two huge hurdles. First and foremost, there's the fact that the Senate is still under Republican control, meaning Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) is still in the driver's seat as majority leader.

Not only has McConnell flatly stated that he has "no plans to endorse the legalization of marijuana," he also just trumpeted a big win with the legalization of industrial hemp — marijuana's THC-less cousin — and CBD products in the passage of the federal Farm Bill. McConnell supported that effort in large part because industrial hemp is poised to become a huge cash crop in Kentucky, especially as the legal market for CBD products is projected to expand rapidly. Plainly, legalizing cannabis outright undercuts that.

The one thing working in weed's favor here is that Gardner is facing a tough re-election fight in 2020 in Colorado, where close to 70 percent of voters favor federal legalization. Republicans currently hold a three-seat majority in the Senate and, if it looks like that's in danger, it's possible McConnell would allow the bill to go to a Senate vote in an effort to keep Republicans' majority.

But that 2020 thing cuts both ways and there in lies the second hurdle. If the bill were to win the blessing of the Senate and head to Trump's desk, his signature would give a huge win to Booker, rumored to be mulling a 2020 presidential run, and Warren, who last week became the first prominent Democrat to announce she'll take Trump on in 2020.

Faced with signing a bill that ends decades of disastrous federal policy that has disproportionately hurt people of color or protecting his own self-interests, what do you think Trump would do?


In somewhat related news, Lori Ajax, who heads California's Bureau of Cannabis Control, told the New York Times last week that the solution to the Golden State's staggering cannabis surplus, which has hamstrung legal markets and propped up black market actors, is federal legalization.

"It would be wonderful if we could sell to other states," she told the Times.

Sure. Some think it would be wonderful to have their weed delivered via unicorn-operated drones, too.

But at other points in the story, Ajax seems to have her feet more squarely on the ground, saying the bureau plans to launch a public education campaign promoting the benefits of buying cannabis from licensed retailers — hey, we're on record, too, urging folks to buy legal or risk contributing to excruciating deaths of a variety of furry critters, some of which are endangered (see "The Choice is Yours," Jan. 25, 2018).

But it's also clear California's glut runs deeper than Californians' purchasing preferences. A report published last year by the California Department of Food and Agriculture found that while Californians produce an estimated 15.5 million pounds of cannabis a year, they only consume about 2.5 million pounds, leaving 13 million pounds traveling across state lines.

Ajax told the Times the state would have to "get more aggressive" and "step up" enforcement. Unfortunately, history has shown that strategy has a pretty dismal track record.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson

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