It may come as something of a surprise to many readers to discover, that despite being legalized by multiple states, including Washington D.C. and decriminalized by many more, marijuana still remains illegal under federal law in the United States. This effectively means, though unlikely, that the government could decide to crack down even on the market in legalized states, under the federal system.
This paradoxical situation means that despite being legalized at the state level, retailers, producers, and users, could still be prosecuted as the drug is classified as a schedule 1 substance, among the highest risk category for abuse (equal to heroin, and less than cocaine) under the federal system. During the Obama administration, states and their regulations were largely left alone from a federal interference viewpoint. Many had become anxious though that the same would not hold true during the current administration.
What has Jeff Sessions got to do with it?
The recent replacement of Jeff Sessions could have a big impact in paving the way for a federal legalization of marijuana, but why?
Starting from the basic national consensus, it is quite clear that the nationwide trend is moving toward full legalization at the state level in some capacity, be it medical or recreational. This is happening state by state where voters are largely in favor of the move, with the recent exception of North Dakota.
During his tenure as Attorney General, Sessions was seen to be a constant thorn in the side of federal legalization, doing everything in his considerable power to hamper the momentum. This is evidenced by his actions such as rescinding the Cole memo, a document which guided US attorneys and the justice department away from marijuana-related prosecutions, and his lack of support for the States Act. This act could be monumental in supporting a change in the federal position on marijuana legalization.
With Sessions now out of the picture, all eyes will be on the next Attorney General to get a view as to how the issue may be approached. With Republican Matthew Whittaker of Iowa now in acting control of the position, a quick look shows that he has a mixed history with the topic. He did support the CBD only, medical marijuana legislation within the state, but also went on to criticize the relaxed federal approach of the Obama administration. There is little to learn from this, though the next appointment to the AG position on a permanent basis could prove key to unlocking de-scheduling of marijuana and federal legalization once and for all.
The Impact of the mid-terms on Federal Legalization
It had largely been hoped prior to the mid-term elections that a big win in the Senate could help push for a vote and full federal legalization. That was not to materialize, as the Republicans held on to their Senate majority. In the house of representatives, however, the Democrats did manage to pick up a majority. This could potentially bode well for the future of any bills which come before the house in terms of being pro-legalization.
It is also well worth noting that many Republican officeholders are now beginning to move in favor of federal legalization. Whilst this is the current trend, there remain a few on both sides of the aisle who are staunchly opposed. The further good news is that two of the major opponents to federal legalization are no longer holding their seats in the House of Representatives following the recent mid-terms. Namely, these are Virginia Republican, Bob Goodlatte, who did not seek reelection and was replaced by fellow Republican Ben Cline. This can only be seen as a progressive move from the very right side in terms of marijuana views.
The other big change has come from the Texas 32nd district where another anti-marijuana Sessions has lost his seat. Republican Pete Sessions, was overturned by Democrat, Colin Allred in a hugely positive swing for positive marijuana regulation.
Overall, the picture painted by the mid-terms has continued the national trend of moving positively in the correct direction for an overhaul of the federal prohibition on marijuana featuring plus points from both sides.
Elizabeth Warren and the States Act.
It is widely hoped that these positive movements can ultimately culminate in the approval of the States Act. This act was brought forward in a team effort from Republican Senator Elizabeth Warren and Republican Senator Cory Gardner. This act is one which, if approved by the house and senate then signed into law, would overturn the federal ban on marijuana through enabling each state to set and abide by their own policy. The act already has the support of the President, 10 senators, and 28 house members dating back as far as late summer. It is thought that in the wake of the recent election results, the House of Representatives would now swing in favor of the proposed legislative change.
Overall, the way ahead seems to be getting considerably brighter for a US federal legalization to match that of the many states which have already legalized marijuana. With the correct political pressures which are already growing in size and momentum from both sides of the political divide, hopes are high that we will soon see a nationwide legalization. For those coming down on the optimistic side, it is only a matter of time before this impasse is overcome.