What Is Preventing Cannabis Legalization In The US?

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Cannabis legalization in some form or another is legal nearly everywhere in the U.S. As of August 2021:

  • Medical marijuana is legal in 36 states, 4 territories, and in the US Capitol, Washington DC. An additional 12 states have legalized the medical use of CBD derived from marijuana.
  • Adult use marijuana is legal in 19 states, 2 territories and Washington DC.
  • Recent poll by Pew Research Center shows that 91% of Americans support some form of legalization with 31% supporting medical use only and 60% supporting medical and recreational.

Recently, Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker circulated a draft bill to legalize marijuana in the Senate. The Democrats control the House while the Senate is split 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats. However, the tiebreaker is Democratic Vice President, Kamala Harris.

At this point, cannabis is ubiquitous, popular, and the party that most openly supports cannabis legalization controls the legislative and executive branch of the Federal government. So why does cannabis legalization seem distant?

According to Forbes, Schumer said at a recent press conference that, “We don’t have the votes necessary at this point. But we have a large majority of our caucus for it. We’re going to show it to the others and say, ‘Well, what don’t you like? What do you like? And we’ll see if we can get the support.’ We’re going to put our muscle behind it, all our effort behind it, and we’re going to get this done ASAP.”

It may seem perplexing as to why the Senate’s top Democrat is concerned about getting enough votes to move his proposed draft bill forward. Senate rules require just a simple majority to pass a bill, but procedural steps along the way require a supermajority of 60 votes to end debate on bills. This brings us to what makes Sen. Schumer state that he does not currently “have the votes” for his proposed cannabis legislation: the filibuster.

A filibuster is long-established tool (dating back to ancient Rome) that allows a lawmaker to slow down or block other lawmaker’s bill, resolution, or amendment from getting a vote by talking as long as they want. The debate can theoretically go on forever, blocking any final vote and essentially killing the bill, resolution, or amendment from advancing.

 
 
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